Yes, charities want to make an impact. But poverty porn is not the way to do it

This blog originally appeared in The Guardian.

Comic Relief was criticised recently by watchdog Radi-Aid for reinforcing white saviour stereotypes. // Photograph: Freddie Claire/Comic Relief/PA

Comic Relief was criticised recently by watchdog Radi-Aid for reinforcing white saviour stereotypes. // Photograph: Freddie Claire/Comic Relief/PA

By Jennifer Lentfer, Director of communications, Thousand Currents

Our job is to tell compelling stories without trivialising people’s lives – and to promote a more nuanced narrative about how to achieve lasting change

Pity, guilt and shame are easy emotional levers to pull, and ones that have become tempting to indulge in as funding is squeezed. We have seen how one well-crafted message can raise awareness of a problem and increase donations in the blink of an eye – from the Kony 2012 film, which became a viral video sensation for Invisible Children, to the Ice Bucket Challenge, which raised more than £75m for motor neuron disease research.

But at the other end of the scale, Comic Relief’s fundraising video featuring pop singer Ed Sheeran and the street children of Liberia won the Radi-Aid “most offensive” campaign award in 2017. Run by the Norwegian Students and Academics International Assistance Fund, ( the contest aims to expose and discourage “poverty porn”.

Since Band Aid in 1984, non-profit organisations have faced scrutiny about approaches that raise awareness and money, but do not invite the public to question why poverty exists in the first place. The challenge for our sector is not just to get as many £5 texts as possible, but to transform goodwill into well-thought-out and sustained action. It means finding a balance between telling compelling stories, without trivialising people’s lives, or the long term prospects for social change.

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