Can international development charities really keep it positive?

Ben Brill By Ben Brill

Not long back, I was at a discussion group for an international development charity.

The convenor showed the group a photo of a child suffering from severe malnutrition and asked them what they thought.

“We don’t want to see that sort of thing,” they told him.

It wasn’t the first time I’d heard it. And it was no big surprise – after all, who’d ever choose to see human suffering?

They carried on: “You charities have been showing us starving children for years now, asking us for money. And nothing ever changes. We’re sick of it.”

It was a fair point. Live Aid happened half a lifetime ago. Folk have become desensitized to images of starving children, disaster and conflict because they’re everywhere. It’s exhausting.

We can all be forgiven for switching over, or switching off altogether.

But it poses a big question for the sector.

Not just because the data shows it still kind of works – since the year dot, the fundraising model has relied on showing moments of crisis and high jeopardy to spark people’s charitable impulse.

But because, at the same time, they have a duty to tell the stories of the people they help as honestly and authentically as possible.

And if those stories are tales of famine, disaster and conflict, how can they do that without showing the suffering?

Across the sector, charities are trying to find a new model. But it’s easier said than done.

Focusing on the positives might sound like a great idea. From a brand perspective, it certainly makes sense - tell people stories that make them feel good about themselves, and the causes they support and they’ll love your brand.

But what if these stories generate lots of goodwill and warmth, but not enough income?

What if there’s a difference between what people want to see, and what will make them act?

Perhaps sometimes we can’t simply focus on the positives. Perhaps sometimes we need to just be honest.

Ben Brill

Ben Brill

Creative Director

Ben came to us from Save the Children, where he was the creative powerhouse behind some of their best-known campaigns. Our story and strategy-led work brought him agency side, and he’s consistently wowed clients with impressive conceptual work. Read more about Ben on our blog.