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Why charity advertising so often fails



It’s holiday season and civil society organisations, especially those dealing with aid and development, are campaigning for charity funds for those in need. Their ads, however, often fail to trigger the open pockets despite well crafted messages and carefully selected images. Why?


When it comes to helping the poor or victims of disasters, NGOs overwhelmingly tend to show an impoverished child, a distressed woman or a devastated scenery.


In his best-selling book “Contagious”, Jonah Berger analyzed why viral messages, especially the most emailed New York Times articles, spread. His conclusion: emotional messages spread, but not all emotions are created equal.


31909feIf a message makes us “feel” love, outrage or inspiration, we are much more likely to share it than the ones that cause sadness. This is where NGO messages tend to fail: a sad person’s face as a trigger to donate is exactly the kind of emotion that does *not* make us follow suit.


A fascinating movie called “No”, based on a true story, tells the same message. When the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet initiated a referendum in 1988 whether or not he should stay in power, the “No” camp, after massive internal struggles, decided to launch a novel campaign: they crafted positive, inspiring and motivating messages while advocating that Pinochet should leave power. To everyone’s surprise, they won.


Kiva, one of the most successful micro-credit development organizations in the world, showcases stories of positive change that donations have made in the lives of the people it is trying to help. Potential new donors can see what their money will be well spent on, all which are projects that will trigger specific improvements. A radical change from the sadness that many other organizations are trying to leverage.


My advice? Tell your audience what their donations will be used for. Show them success stories that inspire them instead of making them feel guilty for declining your call. Lift their spirits by demonstrating that change is possible, and all you need is a bit more help from them. An image is worth a thousand words… and a better chosen photo may be worth a thousand euros in donation.


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