Monday, 7 April 2014

Marketing dilemma's - by James Haughton

In the past few weeks I have been thinking a lot about Dig Deep and our marketing. Marketing sounds like a dirty word in our sector but charity revolves around the need to garner donations and maintain awareness. Neither requires secret strategies of manipulation(!) so I wanted to share with you something that we are giving a lot of thought to right now. It is a dilemma that a lot of charities have to face in presenting their work. 

The scales of the problems are breathtaking in Kenya and there is real human suffering. Presenting images of such suffering has worked for charities for a long time but doesn’t fit with our ethos. How can we present messages about Kenya and the work that we do without resorting to worst case portrayals of the situation there and imposing the narrow lens of our needs as an organisation and donor community?

We would never entertain here in the UK even asking permission to take a photo of a mother weeping, with a child dead in her arms due to cancer, to promote research into one of our primary threats as western people so what makes this acceptable to do during drought in somewhere like 'Africa'? Is it worth it if the money flows in? Or are charities not engaging enough with positive messages about change? Does the need to present more and more impactful images devalue the underlying messages?

Your donation to Dig Deep stops people dying, that is a fact but it is also a message that plays on guilt to a certain extent and reduces the complexity of the impact of the water crisis to a single negative message which is perpetuated continually. When you give to Dig Deep you unlock potential, remove the roadblocks of illness and missed opportunity for education/livelihood to allow the breaking of well-established poverty cycles. You can invest in this kind of change because the communities we work with have incredible energy and drive to carry this forward. They demonstrate this throughout the project process and by asking to work with us in the first place. Looking back on our impact report I can see this enthusiasm shines through over and over by the project reports. Our beneficiaries are active, engaged and not passive onlookers.

Photo taken at Ndanai, by community member Justus, of children learning to wash their clothes after the project opening. It is a good example of what we can learn from the images taken by community members as to the wider impact of accessible and clean water.
So how can Dig Deep put this undertaking to portray our work with sensitivity and communicate positively with our donors into practise? I’m not 100% there yet but the answer must lie within the promotion of direct interaction between our beneficiaries and our donors, to tell their story directly as opposed to their story told by us. One measure we have agreed to roll out is to provide cheap digital cameras to communities and to ask them to record the progress of their projects along with brief captions. Everyone changes when they are put on camera and no one likes being filmed unless it is on their own terms. By lending these cameras out, and with no specific direction, we hope to be able to have a unique insight into what our beneficiaries deem important about their communities, projects and their impact. We very much look forward to sharing these with you all unedited and unabridged.

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