What makes one charity more appealing to donate to over another? Why do politicians and government officials decide to allocate funds for certain diseases instead of others?
Jeremy Shiffman explains that there are a few factors that play a role in choosing one disease or cause to focus on, one of which he calls “framing”. Essentially, the institutions and organizations who are fighting for funding “create, sustain and negotiate portrayals of the issue.” (Shiffman, 2009). If you can frame your disease or cause in both a credible and salient way, you are more likely to receive the funds that you so desperately need.
When reading about this topic I couldn’t help but think about who donates to what charities and why. There are certain television commercials that never fail to bring me to tears and make me want to call that toll free number immediately and hand over my entire life savings. Go to www.aspca.org and look at the faces of those sad puppies…that commercial gets me every time. And don’t forget the music they play in the background while Sarah McLachan sits petting the adorable animals. (If you’re feeling up for it, watch it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IO9d2PpP7tQ). Unfortunately, a commercial (if they exist) on a child with pneumonia or a diarrhoeal disease wouldn’t grab my attention as much as they probably should. Seeing sad and starving children on the screen is horrible, but it doesn’t have the “cuteness factor” that the sad puppies do. Of course it doesn’t hurt to have a celebrity (with a good reputation) to give you some sort of credibility or at the very least catch the eye of the average viewer.
Now these charities with the television sob stories seem to be on the right track. However, that poses another question: are people just throwing money at the problem without researching the charity? What good does it do if we are giving money to the “wrong” places? How many abused puppies are there in the world compared to all of the children who die from pneumonia or diarrhea each year? Do we donate because puppies (even sick looking puppies) are cuter than kids with diarrhea?
Keep in mind this is on a much smaller scale than what Shiffman was explaining because I am comparing television donations to government grants. With that said, I still think it raises a few valid points. How can charities and institutions whose primary goal isn’t a cute, “sexy” or attractive topic get the attention they not only need, but deserve? How can they create a frame that is not only credible but also salient and relatable to the viewers or funders? I think Shiffman has the right idea. Framing techniques are essential. How we portray our causes is ideal because we want to get attention quickly and effectively. Something else to think about it is using framing techniques, such as these commercials, not only for donations and funding but also for spreading the word. As an average person in United States I know puppies are homeless and abused but do I know that children are dying every day from preventable causes such as pneumonia and diarrhea? I think the spread of knowledge might be a good place to start…just don’t forget to add the cute puppies.
Shiffman, J. (2009). “A Social explanation for the rise and fall of global health issues.” Bulletin of the World Health Organization 87: 608-613.