Apparently some of the 1200 people surveyed by the Advertising Standards Authority think charity ads are “distressing”, “offensive” and make them feel “uncomfortable or guilty”.
No one outside the ASA knows how many ticked that box, how the question was framed, or whether anyone surveyed ever donated to charity. But it’s enough for the ASA to consider taking a ‘tougher’ approach.
Surely by now we know there’s an enormous gulf between what people say in a survey and what they do? As I write, the British public has donated over £40 million within a week to the people of the Philippines, in response to images they’re seeing on the news. Are these images ‘distressing’? Yes. Do they make us feel uncomfortable? Yes. Do they make us want to help? Yes.
What’s offensive is everyday silent emergencies, like a child dying of hunger, injustice, poverty, violence, disease, or abuse, never get coverage. If we don’t keep these causes in the public consciousness who will?
Our job is to give a voice to the voiceless and ask for help. To tell the truth and give our audience the dignity of choice; to help in any way they can if they can. If the truth is uncomfortable it’s uncomfortable; what’s the alternative? Are we to tell our beneficiaries their life is too ‘distressing’ for us to relay to people who could help them if only they knew?! Who would we rather ‘offend’; the starving child or the person eating dinner in front of the TV?
As a sector we have access to the world’s most dramatic, heart wrenching, inspirational stories. But we seldom tell them. The ever widening gulf between fundraising, brand, communications and front line services means we’ve become masters of obfuscation, understatement and jargon.
You’d be hard pressed looking at the average appeal to know exactly what the problem was, and what, if anything you could do about it. Too many appeals are emasculated with words and phrases like ‘could’, “…your gift could help…” (What else could it do?!) Or we use watered down language like ‘malnourished’ instead of starving (how many desperately hungry children would tell you they were feeling ‘malnourished’?!)
We’re so terrified of surveys, like the latest from the ASA, that we’ve silenced the voice of the beneficiary and replaced it with an empty, rhetorical mission statement. (Is it any wonder the number of donors and value of donations is dropping, and retention is at an all time low?) If we can’t stand up internally and say what needs to be said, then we can’t stand up as a sector and demand the ASA doesn’t silence the voice of the beneficiary. Now that’s really offensive!