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Do non-profits dumb Americans down?

January 5, 2010

Part of the problem with philanthropy towards Africa is that of ease.  Organizations want to make it ‘easy’ for their donors to give. So they simplify complex situations into ‘easy’ diagrams. They  uncomplicate the situation so that potential donors can understand what is going on.

For example, look at the situation in Darfur and compare the response of the “SAVE DARFUR” campaign to the sophisticated analysis by Mahmood Mamdani)

Unfortunately, the devil is always in the details. In the rush to simplify complex situations such as the one in Darfur we lose understanding of historical context and how that impacts what is currently happening.

I think the advertising industry has done us all in really.  The advertising industry has been in a mad dash to promote consumer products with easy to understand and snazzy marketing and non-profits have followed suit.

But are donors really that dumb? Can anyone  interested enough to give to a particular cause really incapable of understanding anything beyond caricatures of the problem?

Why do we, as non profits, not trust our donors to be smart enough to understand that the world is a complex place.  Surely Americans are not as dumb as we have made them out.  I would like to think that the average donor is capable of, and willing to take the time to see if they agree with any particular solution to the very complex problems facing the continent?

I, at least, desperately want to hang on to the belief that the average American understands that situations of poverty in Africa are much more complex than the dumbed down ad they see on T.V at dinnertime.

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