How to transform your charity campaigning approach

The changing dynamics of charity campaigning means we need to think differently about how we communicate to accurately reflect the people whose needs we are trying to address. Find out more about the charities that are making the shift and how they are doing it.

Good storytelling is a much-talked-about topic in the charity sector. Whilst researching this subject recently, I found numerous articles on good content, imagery and engagement. However, what really caught my eye is the challenge posed by RADI-AID to change the way fundraising campaigns communicate and engage people, particularly on poverty and development issues.

Emerging from the satirical campaign and music video Radi-Aid: Africa for Norway, the annual Radi-Awards, celebrate the best and worst of development charity fundraising videos and imagery. Set up in 2013 by the Norwegian Students’ and Academics’ International Assistance Fund (SAIH), to promote more nuanced storytelling that moves beyond stereotypes, describes tangible solutions to issues and inspires rather than provokes guilt.

Golden Radiator Awards winners in 2017 include War Child Holland, Save the Children US, Ba Futuro/Oaktree and Rescue Freedom. What these winners have in common is their creative approach to challenging issues whilst educating and evoking compassion. Whilst Comic Relief and DEC received criticism for poverty porn, stereotypical imagery and lack of solutions to these challenging issues. As I write Comic Relief has halted its use of celebrities for appeals described by an aid watchdog as reinforcing white saviour stereotypes. The charity is adjusting its approach for 2018 ads which will focus on highlighting local voices.

So what can we do to improve our fundraising campaigns and communications? Programmes like Water Aid’s ‘Voices from the Field’, encourages and empowers individuals and communities to tell their own stories. By using a team of trained local people to gather photo’s, films and interviews in the countries where they work to show how people are transforming their lives. Supported by their ethical photography policy that aims to sensitively and fairly portray the needs they are seeking to address while giving a fuller and more rounded picture of the people and places in which they work. Informed consent is at the heart of this policy to ensure that people understand how their image will be used and can give consent or not. Further guidance and resources on video journalism and photography can also be found at the BBC Academy.

Mental health charity Mind is another great example of an organisation that is passionate about giving a voice and platform to the people they support. Mind’s user-led blogs and selfie videos provide powerful first-hand experience and advice about living with mental health difficulties.

Using different methods of communication such as animation allows us to talk about complex and challenging subjects effectively. Liverpool Child Adolescent Mental Health Services use animation to raise awareness of the support services available.  Scripted by mental health professionals after in-depth consultation with young people who have faced the problems depicted and then voiced by young people to add authenticity. Animation also cuts down on permissions required and allows flexibility in terms of localisation, one animation can be produced in different languages or for different markets just by changing the background, characters and the audio. Tackling sensitive issues is another way in which this medium works well by depicting people or situations in a culturally appropriate manner as exemplified by this Malaria health education series produced for Medical Aid Films.

Something that links each of these approaches, is the ability for them to be accessed and shared digitally, in some cases creating viral interest. The engaging nature of social media presents opportunities for charities to reach and inspire new audiences – at little cost.

Changing how we communicate in the charity sector requires collaboration, creativity and a change in the power dynamic between organisations and the people whose needs we are trying to address. Are you ready to make the shift?

Angela Sexton
Marketing & Communication Consultant
University of London