Advertising images tell you a lot about an aid agency

Think about the most memorable photo in a recent advertisement from an aid agency. What emotion did that photo create? Did it inspire you to give money?

Now imagine that it is your child, sister, or parent in that photo. Would you want that picture used in an advertising campaign?

Does the photo show the aid recipient as helpless or able?

Recently I’ve seen several of my friends give to an aid agency that uses the picture of an emaciated African child on death’s door. We’ve all seen the type of photo I’m talking about (in writing this article I tried to find some sample photos by typing “starving child” into google image, it came up with thousands of them, and almost all of them were from an aid agency website). Each time I see someone donate to an agency that uses this type of photo I think NO, DON’T DO IT!

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not a heartless person who wants others to stand by while children starve. But aid agencies that portray aid recipients as helpless and hopeless are likely to think of aid recipients as helpless and hopeless as well. This does the aid recipient no favor as it leads to programs that foster aid dependency, rather than helping people help themselves.

Good aid is more than giving a man a fish, or even teaching a man tCatching shrimp - photo by Saundra Schimmelpfennigo fish

We all know the saying “Give a man a fish; you have fed him for a day. Teach a man to fish; you have fed him for a lifetime”. Even that implies that donors are the wise and powerful ones saving the aid recipient by bestowing the proper knowledge.

A better way to approach aid would be: Discuss with the man what food is locally available and how he thinks is the best way to get that food. Next, work with him to determine what he needs to be able to provide that food for his family over time. Help him acquire the supplies and training he needs to be successful, and then check back with him over time to ensure that there have not been any problems preventing him from successfully feeding his family.

What type of photos should aid agencies use?

Think of the picture that would go along with that scenario. Those are the types of photos you should be looking for in fund raising campaigns. Aid agencies that present aid recipients as people with dignity and ability are more likely to treat them like people with dignity and ability.

Related Standards:

Child Rights Information Network – The use of images of children in the media

Dochas Code of Conduct on Images and Messages

Fisherman on the way home - photo by Saundra Schimmelpfennig