A Few Good Fundraisers

(With apologies to Messrs Nicholson & Cruise.)


This jury of NGO field staff call Fundraising Director Nathan R. Jessep to the stand. Raise your right hand, please. Will you tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?

–       Yes.

State your name, rank and current position.

 –    Nathan Jessep, Fundraising Director, International NGO.

When you learned about Poverty Porn, you had a meeting with our senior staff in headquarters, correct? You gave all our fundraisers an order, right?

–    That’s right. I told them not to use ANY Poverty Porn in the new fundraising campaign.

Did you give your fundraisers an order?

–    Yes, I ordered them to have any hint of Poverty Porn excluded from all our NGO’s marketing immediately.


–    The dignity of our beneficiaries might be in danger.

Grave danger?

–    Is there another kind?

In addition, here is an email that you sent, saying that you, Fundraising Director Jessep, would personally review all new fundraising marketing materials for possible Poverty Porn, sent to your staff at six o’clock the next evening.

But the Poverty Porn wasn’t removed from our marketing, was it?

–    Ha ha ha. Of course it was.

 Is this funny, sir?

        – No, it’s tragic.

Do you have an answer?

–    Are these really the questions I was called here to answer? I hope you have more evidence than this.

–    The fundraising department are on trial for their reputations, their jobs… their lives. Do you have any other questions for me, program coordinator? Well? Do you?

I’m not through.

–    What shall we discuss? My favourite colour?

You said, you told our marketing team that all the Poverty Porn was to be removed. That our marketing should henceforth be based on honest representation of the true lives of the people our NGO assists, the people we work with here every day, and you would never undermine their dignity for a quick buck. They were clear on what you wanted?

        – Crystal.

Could they have ignored the order? Could they have thought, “The old man is wrong”?

–    Ever been in fundraising, son? Ever served in a forward mailshot area? Ever put your High Net Worth donor prospect in another man’s hands, and his in yours? We follow orders, son. When we launch an appeal, we raise every last penny we can. Otherwise emergency responses just don’t happen. And then, beneficiaries die.

–    It’s that simple. Are we clear?


One last question.

If you ordered that all the Poverty Porn was to be removed – and your orders are always followed – then why was the dignity of the beneficiaries in danger? Why would it be necessary for you to personally review the new marketing materials?

–    It was a substandard tag line. We always have to workshop it…

No, you said you would review it because the beneficiaries dignity was in danger. Why the two orders?

– Fundraisers can do things on their own. They’re innovative, and they’re target driven.

But your staff never did that. Your fundraisers obey orders. So the presentation of the people in the affected villages wasn’t in danger, was it?

–    What?

If you gave an order that all the Poverty Porn was to be removed, why did you have to review it?

Our marketers mailed out pictures of stunted and bloated crying babies because you told them to, didn’t you!

–    Why, you snotty little bastard! How dare you?

Fundraiser Jessep, did you order the Poverty Porn?

– How DARE you?

I want the truth!

–    You can’t handle the truth!

 –    Son, we live in a terrible and unequal world, a world awash with rich people and their money, money that still must be secured for our programs. Who’s gonna do it? You? Your MEAL advisor? I have more responsibility than you can fathom. You weep because you want complexity, and nuanced empathy, and you curse the direct marketing team. You don’t know what I know. That in a world of Youtube and Vine and 3-second attention spans, Poverty Porn saves lives. And my existence, while grotesque to you, saves lives!

 –    But deep down, in places you don’t talk about at your teamhouse parties in Port-au-Prince, you WANT me raising that money. You NEED me raising that money.

 –    We use words like data. Campaign. A versus B testing. Statistics. Evaluation. Return on Investment. They’re the backbone of our lives. You think you invented RCTs last week, and now you use them as a punchline! I haven’t the time or inclination to explain myself to a man or woman who takes home a per-diem through the appeal money I provide, and then questions the way I do it. Better just to thank me. Or pick up a clipboard, stand a post, and come rattle a collection tin in the street. But I don’t give a damn what you think you are entitled to!

Did you order the Poverty Porn?



Your Honour, the fundraiser has confessed his guilt. I suggest our jury now be dismissed, and we all get on with putting together the comms materials he’s come here for.





One Comment on “A Few Good Fundraisers”

  1. […] This piece was originally posted on la vidaid loca. […]

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