What You can Learn from the WORST Non-Profit Videos of 2016

What You can Learn from the WORST Non-Profit Videos of 2016

The big question in the non-profit community is, “how do we get more donations and exposure?” Too often, the answer is to show “the reality” of the people they are trying to help. That is, in order for potential donors to care, they need to be shocked by the situation people find themselves in. But there are more creative ways to craft non-profit videos that will garner more of the right kind of attention for your cause.

Below, we will look at some videos voted the worst of 2016, by the Norwegian Students’ and Academics’ International Assistance Fund (SAIH). We will explore why they are ineffective, and follow up with positive non-profit videos that go viral. You might be surprised by which are popular, and which are not. By highlighting the best and worst charity ads of the year, the goal with these awards is to change the way fundraising campaigns communicate and engage people in issues of poverty and development. Who would think that satire gets more of a response than starvation?

The Rusty Radiator Award goes to the fundraising video with the worst use of stereotypes. This kind of portrayal is not only unfair to the people in the campaign, but also hinders long-term development, as more donors are seeing through these cheap tricks. The term “rusty radiator” comes from this viral video (below) that turns African stereotypes on their head by satirizing non-profit campaigns like Band-Aid. Enjoy the video below before we move on to the less creative, stereotype-ridden, Rusty Radiator winners.

With that, first place for 2016’s worst non-profit video went to Save the Children Netherlands.

According to voters, this video is the epitome of ‘poverty pornography’ as it focuses solely on the suffering lives of black children. Depicting a child without clothes, focusing on his distended stomach due to starvation presents African people as helpless without aid from the Western world. It does not investigate or invite thoughts about how this child came to be hungry, or the more complex issues surrounding hunger. This child is simply an object being used to guilt donors into giving money.

On the other side of the token, look at Mama Hope’s campaign “Stop the Pity.” This non-profit wins the Golden Radiator Award for best, most creative non-profit videos frequently. These videos encourage donations while breaking down stereotypes of the people they serve, admiring people for the things they have survived. Their representation of the people they serve also generates free publicity. Imagine getting phone calls from the press simply because you uploaded a video!

Coming in at number two for worst video is World Vision Australia’s “Sponsoring a Child’s Dream.” According to the awards notes, “The video presents children as passive and helpless victims. Rather than focusing on local agency and initiative, it tells that their suffering can easily be solved by Western donors…”

In Mama Hope’s video, the people have voices, personalities, capabilities and hope. In this World Vision video, the children are voiceless, hopeless, and in need of Western money. It is a skewed story that many donors aren’t buying anymore. Did this video get some things right? Sure, for instance, there have been studies that show focusing on one person and one story, garners twice as many donations as focusing on statistics of the situation as a whole. For example, talking about one starving girl with a name, gets more donations than simply talking about the starvation problem facing millions. Still, boiling little Nzilani down to a voiceless stereotype is not fair to her, or the situation this non-profit is trying to help.

Again, let’s look at how non-profits can get it right. Like the World Vision video, the video “Love a Positive Life,” focuses on one person and her story, to humanize the situation of HIV. It speaks not only to the struggles of being HIV positive, but what a person can do with her life regardless of her status.

Yes, this video starts with some shock value, but it’s Daphne’s choice to be shocking, because it’s her voice and her story. This person with HIV could be, in any other video, labeled an AIDS victim. Here, we see her smiling, educating others, and choosing to be happy in her struggles. It’s a longer video than the others above, but keeps the viewer engaged.

The final Rusty Radiator Award, went to “The Wait Is Over”.

This video promotes deep-rooted (and even subconscious) perceptions of Western superiority over people in the developing world. According to the jury, “It reinforces the ‘white savior complex,’ and depicts that there is nothing the parents can do for their children other than to wait for the sponsor who can save their lives…”

So, what do all three Rusty Radiator awards have in common? The people in the videos are almost completely left without a voice of their own; rather, a narrator tells their story for them. They are depicted as undignified and helpless, solely in need of money from Western donors.

So, what can your organization do to make better choices in your portrayal of the people you serve?

  1. Let your subject drive the story.
  2. Tell the truth rather than distorting the situation for shock value.
  3. Always photograph and videotape your subjects at their eye level, rather than making them appear small and weak by shooting from above.
  4. Always ask your subjects if they want to be photographed or filmed, and make sure they understand there will be no consequences from you, as the non-profit, if they choose not to. Make sure they know where their images will wind up, and give them copies of their images when you leave them (either by mail or email).
  5. Read this academic study, “Stop Stealing Our Stories”, written by women in refugee camps who have lived donors, non-profits and journalists coming to their homes, asking about their traumatized pasts and leaving. It comes from a Human Rights Best Practice journal and gets to the root of stereotyping the people non-profits serve in greater detail than this blog allows.
  6. Educate yourself on subconscious Western perceptions and break them. Here is a helpful tool from The Representation Project- quizzes that you can use while watching TV, movies or playing video games about inherent stereotypes you might not even realize. When you go to make your non-profit video, use this quiz to make more inclusive stories that inspire rather than stereotype.
  7. Check out the rest of the Rusty and Golden radiator videos from past years to learn more about what is fair and dignified, and what is cheap and stereotypical.

As a final video, see this winner from 2015. Unlike the other videos, there are no people from the developing world whatsoever. Instead, it takes a “What-if” scenario and brings it home to the Western world.

According to the judges:

Wateraid turns to creativity rather than pity, which is a good way for bringing the message across. The video is very atmospheric and tense. It is produced in a way that you want to keep watching in order to find out what this is all about… Putting the story in a European setting, you feel that this regards you. Wateraid addresses the problem as a universal challenge in the terms that the needs for sanitation regards us all, along with that the need of safety.  

Let KreativElement work with your non-profit to be more like the Golden Radiator winners. We can help come up with interesting, bold, innovative ideas for your non-profit to help shape your message, without ending up on the Rusty Radiator list.