Charities should routinely have ethical policies in place for how they collect and tell stories of their services users in fundraising and marketing materials, just as they do for ethical gift acceptance/refusal policies, according to sector think tank Rogare.
The recommendation is made in a paper in the Journal of Philanthropy and Marketing that calls for a new way of thinking about the ethics of the framing of charity services users. Co-authors, Ian MacQuillin (director of Rogare), Jess Crombie (London College of Communication) and Ruth Smyth (Boldlight and a member of the Rogare Council), highlight that such framing has remained elusive, with arguments gravitating between two antagonistic poles.
At one pole is the ‘Fundraising Frame’, which argues that fundraisers need to present those images and tell those stories that will motivate people to give the most money to provide services, even if this means showing distressing images of services users, sometimes termed as ‘poverty porn’. At the other end of the spectrum is the ‘Values Frame’, which argues that charities ought to tell and present more positive stories and images of services users, which protect their dignity and challenge stereotypes, even though there is a general acceptance this will likely result in less money raised.
The authors propose the solution of basing ethical framing on whether services users have exercised ‘agency’ and ‘voice’ in telling their own stories, thus becoming ‘contributors’ to charities’ fundraising as well as users of their services.
This puts an onus on charities to consult with and include their service users about their marketing and fundraising communications to enable them to become contributors, and the paper outlines some ways in which this could be accomplished by drawing on the literature of “co-creation” of services.
Jess Crombie says:
“Many charities, as a matter of course, have ethical gift policies to guide them about when to accept, refuse or return a donation. We have these policies so we can pre-empt those ethical issues and have an ethical decision-making framework for navigating any that do pop up.
“In the same vein, charities should also have ethical contributor policies that stipulate the processes and identify ethical dilemmas in gathering service user/contributor-generated content.”
She adds that a “key component” of such policies “must be the implementation of a genuine consent process rather than one that merely legally protects the organisation”.
The paper – titled The Sweetest Songs – is the culmination of Rogare’s project to explore the ethics of the framing of service users. It includes a literature review of the research into the efficacy of positive (whether messages are presented as gains) and negative (messages presented as losses) in fundraising materials.
Ian MacQuillin adds: “With this paper we have moved the discussion about framing ethics beyond a play off between money raised against whether services users’/contributors’ dignity has been protected. Ethical framing is now contingent on whether service users/contributors have exercised voice and agency in contributing to their own framing and telling their own stories. Other things being equal, fundraising frames are ethical when contributors have choice in what stories are told, and get to tell their own stories, and unethical when they do not.”
For more information, read the paper here.
Photo by Larm Rmah on Unsplash
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