Is it exploitation when non-profits use the names and images of real people?

 

Screen shot of World Vision's home page with 7 year old's story

Screen shot of World Vision's home page with 7 year old's story

Read this brief ethical dilemma and then tell me what you think

:  should non-profits use real people’s names and images, knowing that Americans (now fed a steady diet of reality-based programming) respond to them, or is it wrong to use this approach?

 

 

It hit me when I was at a meeting with a non-profit last week.  The internal/external team that is working on the redesign of the non-profit’s website was checking out various approaches.  Two of the most compelling sites we looked at were operated by CARE (title tag:  “Defending Dignity, Fighting Poverty”) and World Vision, which uses rotating images of children like Penina, 7, who bottles and sells milk to help support her family.

The website we’re working on is for an organization that has an iron-clad policy against using clients’ images or names, even with permission.  The executive director feels that the children and youth who are their clients might feel differently about having their faces plastered on the Internet when they get older.

It struck me that many of the organizations that use images of real people provide international aid.  Donors like to know exactly who they’re helping, and I’ve seen many blog posts where individuals provide specific profiles of people they’ve funded through organizations like Kiva.org.

But organizations that work domestically are far more careful about using images of real people.  It seems we feel it’s exploitative if we’re using the image of someone we could run into in the grocery store.

Modest Needs is an organization that addresses domestic need by matching specific requests with donors.  They do this by having individuals in need complete grant applications and submit documentation, when appropriate.  The vetted applications are assigned a number, posted on the website and headlined, as in “Once Homeless Family Needs Car Fix” or “Help Us Keep Our Lights On”.  When you click on the grant application, you can read the brief description of need.  Grant applications get funded when enough people “vote” for them by investing their points, a currency they acquire when they make a donation to the organization.

Here’s the point.  The individual client story is there, but Modest Needs does not use names or photos.  If there’s competition for the heart strings, it happens through the quality of the headline and the compelling nature of the need.  Maybe you’ve got a soft spot for teachers, or single moms, or grandmothers parenting grandchildren.

Without real photos and profiles, there’s no question that local non-profits are pulling their punches.

What say you:  should non-profits use real people’s names and images, knowing that Americans (now fed a steady diet of reality-based programming) respond to them, or is it unethical to use this approach?

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