Wed, May 01 2013

My least favorite fundraising framing: Shame

Katya Andresen's avatar

Author, Robin Hood Marketing

Filed under:   Fundraising essentials •

UNICEF Sweden has launched a new campaign that tells people who Tweet about their cause or like their Facebook page fail to make a difference - and could put a life in jeopardy.  It’s essentially a shaming campaign, as outlined in this Atlantic article.

I don’t like to single out campaigns, but this one troubles me since it relies on emotion in a way that I don’t find constructive.  Here are some examples of the campaign messages.  The gist is, if you spread the word instead of donating, a boy could die and a child won’t be vaccinated.  How does that make you feel?


Maybe Swedes enjoy this kind of message and approach, but I am skeptical.  Here’s what I don’t like about the campaign.

1. Shame rarely inspires action in any culture.  It just makes people feel bad - and turn away.  Ask Brene Brown.

2. Mocking the action of spreading the word about a cause discourages one of the most powerful forces anyone can put to work for a cause - word of mouth.

3. It ignores the fact that social networks are supposed to be about relationships. It seems to be demanding a transactional mentality in a social setting.

4. I am not sure the organization did their audience research.  A lot of assumptions are inherent in this approach.  Are they sure people on social networks have never given to UNICEF?  Do they have data suggesting social networking and giving are mutually exclusive (doubtful)?  Are people active on social networks their best target audience for giving?  Is forcing an either/or choice better for fundraising than letting people do both?

I bet this campaign will get people talking, but I doubt it will inspire giving.  Which is deeply ironic given its message.

For a smarter way to look at so-called slacktivism, watch this.  As Julie Dixon says, based on this body of research, “Influence is important.”


  • Comment: (10)   


Not saying that I condone a “shaming” campaign but I think I understand UNICEF’s frustration. Those of us working with nonprofits wish we could turn those thousands—and sometimes millions—of likes into actual donations or perhaps volunteer hours.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  05/01  at  08:17 AM

I think the point of the video was correct, but the audience was wrong.  The message should be directed to other nonprofits who seem to have made increasing the number of “Likes” the goal, rather than a means.  Julie Dixon urges using social media to ask friends and followers to use their influence to actively promote a cause and share information their networks.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  05/01  at  10:15 AM

Interesting approach. I agree that shaming is not the way to market, and it’s obvious that the little boy did not come up with those words about facebook on his own. I do however disagree with their reasoning, that likes saves lives. While it may not translate directly into cash, it does raise awareness. The USAID did a whole campaign for the famine and drought in Horn of Africa and it was completely based on the idea of using social media as a means to raise awareness, for example, liking and sharing stats about the crisis and working to mobilize others to give and at the very least become aware of the situation. People can’t give if they aren’t aware.

I agree with you completely, great informative post!

Posted by Jessica Gardner  on  05/01  at  12:51 PM

Saw the banner ad and I thought it was compelling. I think the small text is important:

“We have nothing against likes, but vaccines cost money.” This isn’t as condescending. Acknowledges likes aren’t bad, just that they aren’t as important. “Please buy polio vaccine at It will only cost you X but will saves the lives of 12 children.” Has a call to action, uses the word “you” (though weakly), and communicates impact (“the lives of 12 children”).

In contrast, the TV ad puts words in the mouths of children–and forced, sarcastic words to boot. That inauthentic spin undercuts the emotional connection, for me–instead of us caring about the kids, they are just a guilt-trip mechanism.

Plus, more terribly, it doesn’t make the donors the heroes. “For xx WE can vaccinate 12 children.” In other words “Silly donors, WE are trying to change the world while you’re on Facebook.” Why not “you can save 12 children with XX”? Why not empower the people whose help you need?

Posted by Marc  on  05/01  at  02:12 PM

I agree with you. Still, I will wait to see the results, maybe it’ll surprise us… or maybe not. Please, if there’s some way that you can tell later on the end of this story, it will be great!

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  05/01  at  02:48 PM

Thanks for this post, Katya.

I can’t stand shaming tactics. For me, this just shows that UNICEF Sweden is really ineffective at fundraising.

In my blog response, I did offer to help them get better at asking! smile

Posted by Marc A Pitman,  on  05/01  at  04:12 PM

It made me really think. I’m all about efficiency and talk to my clients constantly about the time they waste on the little things as opposed to just doing what needs to be done. In addition this is getting shared everywhere. Success will be measured in the end result. I for one appreciate it.

Also there were so many steps to posting this comment I almost didn’t. What is it we tell our clients? We lose 10% of the response and/or donation for every step they have to take in the process?

Posted by @Srfuller  on  05/02  at  01:44 AM

I completely share your opinion Katya and wonder why Unicef Sweden has a presence on facebook in the first place when they seem almost ‘insulted’ at the way people are using it.
My impression is that many fundraising organisations (especially ‘older’ ones) thought they could manipulate social media tools for their own purposes - place free advertising and collect more donations that way. but this is not how facebook, Twitter & Co. work.

I have always perceived Unicef as very old-fashioned, so I am not surprised at their “make people feel guilty” approach.

Posted by Gina  on  05/02  at  04:47 AM

I agree Katya. I feel as marketer we must remain ethical and responsible. Making us feel guilty helps no one. Great post.

Posted by Grant Tilus  on  05/02  at  10:26 AM


Posted by JACQUELINE SCHINDLER  on  05/02  at  02:28 PM

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