The Problem with Guilt as a Motivator for Non-Profits

The video begins and the images fade in. All black and white picture of haunting horror come across the screen.

A person in the gutter, the streets of the red light district, mistreated animals in cages.

Each set of eyes shows no hope. The piano music begins. Image after image showing how terrible things are.

Then the voice over begins…

We’ve seen this kind of campaign over and over. It’s tired, insulting and manipulative. The crazy part is: it works.

Guilt works, it really does. But it’s a short lived victory.

The downside to guilt is that it will solve the problem for today but eventually a message of guilt becomes white noise or worse, attaching your brand to a feeling of anger.

Homelessness, animal abuse, and human trafficking are all terrible issues and they need all the help we can give to change their trajectory. So here’s a few tips on how to avoid using guilt on your next campaign.

Tip #1 – Think about the issue for more than 10 minutes.
In the last 4 years I’ve seen a ton of videos on the issue on homelessness. Anytime a shelter, housing program or rescue mission hires a new team to create media, the first offering is usually in the black and white photo style. Why is that? Because it’s the first idea. Brainstorm!! Take an hour and let your mind think o the possibilities. I also love this quote, ‎”I think the fundamental job of a producer is to be a dreamer.” –Gil Cates

Here’s some contrast – I think this video shows the horror and the seriousness of the issue of homelessness in Los Angeles and it’s done through well thought out content, personal/authentic story and it’s not preaching.

Tip #2 – Don’t create in a vacuum!
Grab your best mates for a small rap session. It doesn’t have to be a focus group. Just bounce some ideas off them and see what resonates. I find the best audience are abstract thinkers because there’s nothing to look at. Grab a white board and start fleshing out your brainstorming session.

Tip #3 – Inject the Joy!
As much as horror and shame can be a way to tell the story, let’s look at the other side of the coin. Can we show hope and inspiration and energize your audience? What if your media left audience thinking about how they could join your work? Look to be more than a reminder of how terrible some things are or be the echo of sadness for the rest of the day.

Tip #4 – Take a Risk
You can be awesome or awesomely terrible to have things spread on the internet. Tupac Hologram at Coachella or Hot Problems – and that was just this week. No one ever shared that campaign that was, “Ok” or “Not bad”. Trust your gut and swing for the fences. Even if it doesn’t get massive attention, you’re learning and your process will be better.

Tip #5 – Do you like it?
Before you ship it out the door you need to ask, “Do I like this?” Would I get involved with this?” “Am I proud of this?”. If the answer is anything less than, “You bet your sweet bippy!!” then there’s work to do. Take another crack at it. Don’t obsess for perfection but make sure it’s at least 85% to your liking.