This post is a start at listing the main academic research papers that have looked at the issue of how beneficiaries are framed in fundraising and marketing materials.
This resource should be used for reference only. While a brief summary is presented, this is presented more by way of an introduction rather than a precise encapsulation of the main findings. We’ve read some of these papers in full, skimmed others and only read the abstract of yet others. So anyone using this resource is advised to check the papers and draw their own conclusions, not rely on our summary.
This page will be updated as and when we find more relevant papers.
Pictures of me: user views on their representation in homelessness fundraising appeals
Beth Breeze and Jon Dean (2012)
Interviews with homeless people looking at their attitudes to how homelessness is portrayed by charities seeking to help them. Participants thought that maximising revenues through the use of simple, eye-catching images is the prime goal of fundraising. But they also expressed a desire for more nuanced campaigns that tell the dynamic stories of how people become homeless and the use of imagery that elicits empathy rather than merely arouses sympathy.
A version of this research is also available as a white paper from the Centre for Charitable Giving and Philanthropy: User views of fundraising: A study of charitable beneficiaries’ opinions of their representation in appeals.
Use of images in charity advertising: Improving donations and compliance rates
Christopher Burt and Karl Strongman (2005)
Found that images portraying negative emotions significantly increased people’s intentions to donate.
Framing Charity Advertising: Influences of Message Framing, Image Valence, and Temporal Framing on a Charitable Appeal
Chun-Tuan Chan and Yu-Kang Lee (2009).
Compares two different Barnardo’s adverts, concluding that there is an interplay of different frames – short term and long term, and positive and negative, concluding that negative images work best in generating action in the short term but positive images are better for a change in the longer term.
Post-humanitarianism: Humanitarian communication beyond a politics of pity
Lilie Chouliaraki (2010)
Explores whether calls for positive portrayals of beneficiaries are merely a reaction to political and cultural guilt from Western charity advertisers.
Using positive vs. negative photographs for third-world fund raising
Evelyne J. Dyck and Gary Coldevin (1992)
This study compared fundraising appeals that used no photograph, a “pleasant positive” photograph, or a “less pleasant, needy negative” photograph. The positive photo elicited a higher average donation than the negative image (Can$48.55 v Can$45.90). However, the authors don’t appear to have carried out significance testing on the results. The appeal without a photograph garnered the highest reponse rate.
Charity advertising: for or against people with a mental handicap?
Caroline B. Eayrs and Nick Ellis (1990)
Not only does this study find that images that elicited feelings of guilt, sympathy and pity in viewers were more correlated with a commitment to donate, it also found a negative association between giving and images that showed people with mental health issues as having the same rights, values and capability as those without such issues. In other words, these positive images were less likely to make people want to give.
Emotional pathways to engagement with global poverty: an experimental analysis
David Hudson, Jennifer vanHeerde-Hudson, Niheer Dasandi, and N. Susan Grimes (2016).
Testing images that aimed at inducing negative (pity, guilt, anger) and positive (hope, solidarity) emotions, this study found there was no significant difference in the intention to donate from negative and positive frames. However, the negative images reduced viewers’ sense that that they could make a difference, leading the authors to conclude that negative images might reduce the engagement potential of supporters in other areas.
Use of labeling and assertions of dependency in appeals for consumer support
Ellen M. Moore, William O. Bearden, and Jesse E. Teel (1985).
A wide-ranging study that looked at many motives for giving, such as self-esteem, moral norms and guilt. One conclusion was that for help to be offered, beneficiaries needed to be portrayed as a “victim of circumstance” – in other words their situation was due to circumstances outside their control.
The face of need: Facial emotion expression on charity advertisements.
Deborah A. Small and Nicole M. Verrochi (2009).
Looks at how the expression of emotion on the face of the person represented in the advert affects sympathy and giving, concluding that sad expressions elicit empathy in the viewer, leading to increased donations.
Cry, laugh, or fight: The impact of the advertising image and disease target match on consumers’ evaluations of cancer advertising
Kimberley A. Taylor and Jana Nekesa Knibb (2013).
Exploring three categories of images – ‘happy’, ‘sad’, and ‘strong’ – in advertising for three types of cancer, concluding that ‘happy’ images would raise more money from women and ‘strong’ images would raise more from men (intention to donate rather than actual donations).