User views of fundraising

BREEZE, Beth and DEAN, Jonathan (2012). User views of fundraising. Project Report. Alliance Publishing Trust.

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This paper presents the findings of a study exploring the views of charitable beneficiaries on literature that is designed to appeal to donors. Ethical questions raised by using images of beneficiaries in fundraising materials have been a matter of debate for some time, but such debates normally only include the opinions of ‘powerful’ voices such as charity leaders, moral philosophers and media commentators. This research extends the parameters of the debate by canvassing the opinions of those depicted, to ask: what do users think of the images of themselves found in fundraising appeals? The study is based on five focus groups attended by a total of 38 young people living in, or attending services at, homeless hostels in four English cities. Focus group participants were asked their opinion of an array of images of homelessness that had recently been used in fundraising campaigns run by major charities working in this field. The findings demonstrate that this group of beneficiaries are visually literate, familiar with how marketing works and largely supportive of methods that maximize income. They understood why charity marketing often makes use of contrived and simplified images to depict homelessness, and showed appreciation for the skills of fundraisers in balancing the accurate depiction of social problems with the need to generate enough donations to – literally, in most cases – provide a roof over their heads. However, participants also expressed a desire for fundraising imagery to ‘tell stories’ about how people find themselves in need of charitable assistance and how they can turn their lives around, so that potential donors can appreciate how others come to be in need of help. This preference for dynamic imagery andstorytelling was contrasted with ‘sympathy snapshots’: fundraising materials that simply show an image of beneficiaries at their lowest ebb. Our study participants preferred the use of images that elicit empathy in potential donors, rather than those that only attempt to arouse sympathy, as they hope people will decide to make a generous response as a result of a recognition of common humanity rather than through emotions such as guilt or pity. The paper concludes by noting that the images used in fundraising materials play a key role both in defining social issues and in attracting a public response to those issues. Therefore the representations of need that are promoted by charities matter to beneficiaries, and it is important to include their voice in debates about the content of fundraising appeals.

Item Type: Monograph (Project Report)
Research Institute, Centre or Group - Does NOT include content added after October 2018: Sociology, Politics and Policy Research Group
Depositing User: Jon Dean
Date Deposited: 05 Oct 2012 08:16
Last Modified: 12 May 2021 19:10

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