Some nonprofits want attention so badly, they’re willing to give up nearly everything else in order to get it.  Here are two recent examples.

Can you belittle people into giving?
image ENABLE Scotland, an organization that works with the disabled, has put out this much-noted ad that directly pits animal charities against disability charity.  (More in this BBC news story: Animals get greater charity share.)

The model, who seems to be the person asking the question, stares back with a scowling, unfriendly expression.  It all comes across as disdainful and sarcastic, a challenge to the reader’s intelligence and morality.

Is this a good way to motivate any kind of positive behavior?

Think about it from your own relationships.  Does a sneering challenge ever bring someone else around to your point of view?  Of course not.  In fact, it puts them on the defensive and effectively ends the discussion.

Motivating someone to do a good deed is best done by coming alongside them and appealing to their values—not by attacking their priorities. 

People choose the charities they support for their own reasons.  It’s puzzling to me too that U.K. donors on the whole seem to favor animals over disabled humans.  (One reason might be that animal charities don’t use sarcasm to get support!)  To get a better balance in charitable giving, organizations like ENABLE Scotland should try better marketing and fundraising, not slapping the good folks who are touched by the plight of animals.

Sex sells—but what does it sell?
image Maybe the Enable ad should have asked “If I ate out of a dog bowl and took off my clothes would you like me?”  Nudity is a powerful attention-grabber.  But beyond merely getting attention, you have to wonder what PETA thinks their “State of the Union Undress” is going to accomplish.  (Careful:  This video is not work-safe.)

I’ll save you the agony of watching:  She takes it all off.  And while doing so, she brags about PETA’s activities, in an unpleasant, knife-like voice.  But what for?  Substituting flesh for charisma, she gets eyeballs directed her way, but they’re not there for the cause.

I suppose PETA’s going on the theory that the more people who come to ogle the naked woman, the more among them will persuaded by the message behind the . . . picture.

Fat chance.  The state of mind that nudity encourages is rather unlike the compassionate mindset that leads to charity.

You might say these messages are successful in a sense:  They got attention.  I’m writing about them, and you’re reading about them.  But do they motivate positive action?  Will they get people to step forward with their checkbook to help make the world a better place?  That’s a whole different question.  I doubt it.


imageJeff Brooks is creative director at Merkle|Domain, a direct-response agency serving the nonprofit world.  He blogs at the Donor Power Blog.

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