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Beneficiary framing

How ought charity beneficiaries be portrayed – or ‘framed’ – in charity advertising and fundraising?

There’s often a difference of opinion within charities.

Fundraisers tend to favour those images that they believe will maximise income (that will be used to alleviate the plight of the beneficiaries). These images tend to show in quite stark context the plight and suffering of beneficiaries, often quite graphically. This is because professional received wisdom says it's these types of images that raise the most money. But they are often criticised as ‘poverty porn’, which stereotypes beneficiaries or does not accord them an appropriate level of dignity.

So many service delivery staff (and others at charities) tend to favour images that reflect more ‘positive’ values about beneficiaries, maintain their dignity, and focus on the solution to the problem. But fundraisers would argue that such images raise less money.

This argument has become polarised with little progress towards common ground. So Rogare is trying to reframe this whole question by looking at the evidence for and against negative and positive framing in charity advertising, and by trying to develop a new ethics of beneficiary framing derived from Rights Balancing Fundraising Ethics.

What we aim to do

We are planning five green (discussion) papers that explore various aspects of this issue:

  1. Review of the ‘philosophy’ behind approaches to this topic to establish the philosophical/ideological nature of the debate and hypothesise as to the degree of polarization in the discussion

  2. Efficacy of positive vs. negative frames.

  3. How beneficiaries view their portrayal in fundraising.

  4. Commonalities and differences in relevant existing codes of practice

  5. A final report presenting a normative argument about how beneficiaries ought to be framed in fundraising.

Although papers 1 and 5 bookend this project, there is no requirement that each paper is published in order (except paper 5) and we shall publish each paper as and when it is completed.

Reframing paper 2 - Postiive and Negativ

Paper 2 on positive and negative framing, by Ruth Smyth and Ian MacQuillin. Clilck on image to download.

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Paper 3 on beneficiary voices, by Jess Crombie. Click on image to download.

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More information

  • Jess Crombie – author of Green paper 3: Putting the contributor centre frame – discusses her ideas with Jason Lewis on the Fundraising Talent podcast. 

  • Read Rogare director Ian MacQuillin’s two-part blog on Critical Fundraising that discusses the context and some of the assumptions behind this project:
    You've been reframed, Part 1 – are fundraisers and programme delivery 'ideologically' divided about beneficiary images?

  • Read Ian MacQuillin’s two-part blog on Critical Fundraising that discusses the context and some of the assumptions behind this project:
    You've been reframed, Part 2 – how we need to rethink the question of beneficiary images/

  • Ian MacQuillin discusses the ethics of beneficiary framing at the International Fundraising Congress in the Netherlands.

  • Download the beneficiary framing project brief.

Our ideas on the ethics of framing have been presented at major conferences in Canada, Ireland, England, USA and the Netherlands.

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