A report released today by Rogare is the first stage in closing the ‘ideological’ gap in how to represent beneficiaries. The research looks at the evidence for positive and negative ‘framing.’ The first in a series of six green (discussion) papers looks at what the academic evidence says about the use of positive and negative framing in a fundraising context. It has been mainly researched and written by Rogare International Advisory Panel member Ruth Smyth.
The researchers found fundraisers and service delivery people favour different frames. The difference of opinion between these two groups may be so entrenched that it has become ‘ideological.’
Smyth points out that fundraisers tend to understand positive and negative framing typically as referring to ‘happy’ and ‘sad’ images. She notes the academic research considers framing as whether something is presented in terms of a ‘loss’ or a ‘gain:’
But, Smyth adds that there has been little research that has looked at framing specifically in the context of fundraising and charity advertising – the paper reviews just 12 published studies.
Smyth says: “What research there is lends tentative support to the commonly-held practitioner belief that negative framing, especially sad imagery, elicits more donations through engaging people’s sympathy – and negativity bias means people pay more attention to negative information. Research also mostly supports the idea that negative imagery using sad faces tends to elicit more donations when there is little other information, or limited time to process this. “But the evidence is not overwhelming.”
The paper – titled Positive and negative feedback – suggests that:
Rogare’s director Ian MacQuillin says: “The underlying issue is that fundraisers and service delivery staff often have opposing views and attitudes about how beneficiaries ought to be portrayed in advertising, marketing and fundraising materials. Fundraisers tend to favour those images that they believe will maximise income. These images tend to show in quite stark context the plight and suffering of beneficiaries.
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. We believe that adherents of the both frames have become polarized in the discussion and debate, which has become increasingly adversarial and may in fact be ‘ideological’. Our objective is therefore to ‘reframe’ this whole debate to close this gap and achieve a new ethical consensus on this matter.”
Rogare is planning to publish six green papers as part of the project:
1 Review of the ‘philosophy’ behind approaches to this topic to establish the philosophical/ideological nature of the debate
2 What works and why it works in positive and negative frames
3 Beneficiaries’ attitudes to how charities tell their stories and use their images
4 What are the best ways to talk to beneficiaries and service users to get their stories?
5 What the existing codes of practice say about using images
6 A final report presenting a normative argument about how beneficiaries ought to be framed in fundraising.
Ruth Smyth is director of planning and insight at BoldLight, where she works with UK charities to understand what motivates supporters and how to increase income. Prior to this, Ruth led the insight team at the RSPB, delivering the research that underpinned the charity’s re-brand in 2013. Her desire to better understand the motivations of people to support charities spurred her to study for a BSc in psychology with the Open University, graduating with a first class degree in 2016. To talk about the findings in the Positive and negative feedback paper, contact Ruth Smyth on: email@example.com; 07855 819333
Rogare (Latin for ‘to ask’) is the Centre for Sustainable Philanthropy’s fundraising think tank and the home of Critical Fundraising – the discipline of critically evaluating what fundraisers know, or think they know, about their profession. Our remit is to explore under-researched and ‘under-thought’ areas of fundraising. One of our key aims is to generate new practical ideas by pulling together the academic and practitioner branches of the fundraising profession. For further information about Rogare and the ‘You’ve Been Reframed’ project, contact Ian MacQuillin at Rogare (@RogareFTT) on 020 8659 1158 or 07977 422273 or firstname.lastname@example.org