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Critical Thinkers Unite!

January 29, 2010

No time for specifics, we have to move hunger down two colors!


I received this solicitation from an organization that, as you might guess, assists in trying to feed some of the world’s neediest people.  Actually, this is the second exact same solicitation that I have received from this organization in a little over a week, not including a letter which was sent in order to raise funds for their efforts in Haiti.  I have donated to this organization once in the past, but since I have never given them reason to hope I would continue to donate.  But the mail keeps coming.  Year in; year out.  I can only assume this is due to some marketing company in their employ that tells this organization the most efficient use of their marketing dollar is to target those that have donated in the past.  I’m sure marketing students could quickly point me in the direction of studies that have dissected “donors” and assessed behavioral patterns that justify the inundation of junk mail I receive from them and every other organization I have ever donated to in the past. 

In the wake of the Haitian tragedy I feel like the girl everyone wants to take to the prom.  Everyone is falling over themselves and killing countless trees because they are positive one of them will get in my pants and relieve me of some extra cash.  Well, let me announce here that you will not get it.  Even though I may support the work that you do, I will never respond to your deplorable solicitations with a check in that little envelope you so conveniently provide.  A check!  Like I even use paper checks!  You obviously do not understand me even as a demographic, and in the process of soliciting my help have insulted my intelligence with such pleas as the one photographed above.  I will donate, but you will not be the lucky one. 

But I digress, the point was I understand why an organization that I have donated to would target me, but I believe the entreaties of these solicitations to be unethical.  The green, yellow, and red spectrum is immediately understood by Americans and registers on sub-conscious levels.  Green is safe, yellow is a warning, and red is danger.  Our terror threat system works on the same principles and we all know if it were to turn red there is an impending or occurring terrorist attack.  This solicitation employs this model with an arbitrary line indicating a measurement of starvation that is fully in the red area of the “meter”.  This is a measurement of nothing.  Measurements have numbers.  This is a picture intended to manipulate conditioned responses in my brain in order to get me to write a check.  It is not going to work and actually has had the opposite effect.  I do not appreciate attempts of manipulation through propaganda of any person, organization, or government.

Is this just me, or do others feel the same way?  I have a couple other solicitations that come to mind that really bothered me.  In one an organization sent me a real penny and asked me to mail it back with an additional amount.  Since they decided to mail me a penny, along with thousands of other people, out of their budget and then try to guilt me into sending it back, I just put it in my change gourd (yes, I keep loose change in a gourd).  They deserve to run out of funding if they are going to gamble with the money they already have.  That penny could have paid for some starving child’s oatmeal.  Another ploy that comes to mind is the return address sticker with your name, address and their logo on it.  Not a bad idea if I actually used snail-mail and their logo might be seen by someone other than the postman.  Who gave them that terrible idea?  No wonder so many NGOs are always in the red.  I just do not find it conscionable to give money to such organizations.

I am sorry if this post has become a bit of a personal rant, but I guess I just needed to get it off my chest.  I personally feel that a growing number of people are too savvy and educated to fall for dated Sally Struthers and children with fly beleaguered eyes emotional ploys.  Let us see some happy people benefitting from a successful development project.  That is the organization that I want to donate to and support.  Let’s see a mother who just had a positive check-up with her infant at local clinic or two children lost in play because they can afford another thought besides satiating the dull pain in their stomach.  If your organization made that happen then you have my full support.  If you are an aid organization and failing in the region or on the issue which you have decided to make your mission, maybe none of us should be giving you our money.  I’m just sayin’.

One Comment leave one →
  1. varekai1018 permalink
    March 8, 2010 7:32 pm

    I’ve been meaning to respond to this post for a couple of weeks, but only had a moment now. Having worked in both program development and fundraising/communications for a variety of health/human rights organizations, I can see both sides of this argument.

    It makes sense for statistical information to accompany pleas for charitable giving; however, studies continue to show that donations drop when numbers/statistics are displayed next to pictures such as the one that you have in your post (though usually these photos are of children or a single child). In this sense, the problem goes much deeper than the organization’s approach to development and fundraising, and instead lies with greater society and our notions of “giving”. I think we need to feel like we’re making some sort of tangible impact when we give money, and it is impossible to feel this way when confronted with the enormity and complexity of disaster (i.e. Haiti), hunger, war, etc. This tends to be why sponsorship of children and/or families works well as a fundraising mechanism: [hypothetically,] maybe I didn’t solve the family planning crisis in post-conflict Guatemala, but I was able to finance a girl’s education for a year, or provide her family with three meals a day for a month. The picture that you use in your example follows this pattern, and is actually a smart fundraising tool – by envisioning that my donation will move the needle to the left, there’s a sense of tangibility behind my giving.

    At the end of the day, I think there’s a place for multiple approaches. I think where statistics are most important is in ensuring that programs are responsive to the needs of target populations (i.e. regionally responsive planning, evaluation), as well as in developing evidence-based policies. In a sense, fundraising pleas that show photos of starving children are also using an evidence base (following what is proven to work), though I do understand the tension that you bring to light in this post.

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