| January 9, 2011 5:37 pm

Last week, I agreed to help a local non-profit create a brochure for a well they are sponsoring in Africa. It’s part of my drive to gain graphic design experience by volunteering for various non-profits.

As I was talking with the development director, she was adamant that the visual message of the materials should be positive.  If you look at the advertising and propaganda materials of many non-profits working in Africa, they share a common theme.  Specifically: You of the first world have it good, and those of the third world do not.  Therefore, you should give to those in need.  They are, in effect an attempt to guilt-trip people into making donations. Consider the example below, from WWF.

A poster from WWF

It incorporates prominent death imagery and shocking statistics in order to dredge up the specter of both long and short time crisis.  The problem with these posters isn’t that while they may be effective in the short term, shock and guilt wear off.  People become desensitized to them, then they get tired of them, finally, they tune them out.  For that reason, the next time you want to motivate someone to action, you need to come up with an even more dramatic statistic.

The need to continually one-up yourself results in a distorted public perception of what the situation actually looks like.  Hans Rosling does a magnificent job in explaining why in the video below.

There is also a secondary problem, when you treat a long-term problem as a crisis, people expect immediate progress on a solution.  When that progress isn’t forthcoming, they become frustrated and may withdraw support.

There is another way to tell a similar story, and that is by focusing on the problem as something that can be overcome. In the realm of water charities, no one is doing this more effectively than charity: water. For example, consider the promotional banners below, which were taken from the charity: water website.

Like the example from above, they tell a similar story. They highlight the importance of clean over dirty water, but they do it in a way that offers hope in the battle against an enormous problem. In other promotional materials charity: water uses statistics to educate about the scope of the issue, but in a way that provides context and shows progress.  (For a fantastic example of how they blend the line between education and propaganda, see their annual report.)

I bet you can tell who I would rather give my money to.

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