To survive and thrive, charities must communicate effectively with their audiences – now more than ever. After all, it is this communication that helps them to champion their cause and to raise the necessary funds to do good in the world.

But what style of comms is best at attracting support, without damaging the brand in the process?

For years, many have embraced the traditional ‘flies in the eyes’ approach to fundraising, also known as ‘poverty porn’. During times of crisis – especially in the development sector – charities often use sensationalised suffering as a means of soliciting donations.

By motivating people to donate out of shock and guilt, this approach raises serious ethical concerns – often leaving the truth on the sidelines. It is why ‘the poor’ have historically been portrayed as ‘helpless’ and reliant on donors for their salvation.

Moreover, research increasingly shows that its time is up, with many arguing that poverty porn actually deters support.

At the other end of the spectrum, we have ‘deliberate positivism’. That is, the use of positive messaging to showcase how public donations are making a difference… without holding donors hostage to emotional blackmail.

Imagine children smiling because of your support, instead of them crying without it.


‘Deliberate positivism’ is not without its pitfalls however. It can portray donors as hero-like figures and suggest they alone are responsible for change. In turn, disenfranchising and disempowering those they are trying to help.

Collaborative positivism

That’s why I believe in the future-facing and open-source model I have developed – ‘Collaborative Positivism’. A new communications model that harnesses the strengths of both of its predecessors, without being held back by their flaws or limitations.

This fresh approach begins by mapping out ‘the problem’ in the form of a narrative. Laying out the core challenges and obstacles that are holding back the charity and its cause.

It then seeks to build the brand as a solution to those challenges. Being sure to showcase the positive outcomes of the charity, while recognising the collective effort of all parties involved in making them a reality – including supporters, beneficiaries and other stakeholders.

By tapping into a shared focus on positivity and building a sense of personal involvement and collaboration to drive social change, this new model empowers brands to stand out.

Collaborative positivism in action

Spencer du Bois’ work for Fight for Sight epitomises how this works. Fight for Sight has been the UK’s leading sight loss research charity for over 50 years, but many still believe that sight loss cannot be prevented or cured.

To put themselves on the map, the charity needed a brand capable of sparking revelation and igniting revolution – tackling the misconceptions around sight loss while building a movement of support for the cause.

To achieve this, Fight for Sight focused its messaging on its achievements to date and their close proximity to exciting new breakthroughs. By proof-pointing the impact of sight loss research and focusing on the positive impact it had made on people’s lives, the new brand was born of positivity and optimism – rather than the sense of loss and hopelessness that is often associated with sight loss.

“We fund the ground-breaking research that’s changing lives today and transforming them tomorrow”

To build a sense of personal involvement and collective action, the new brand also positioned supporters, scientists, those living with sight loss and other stakeholders as central in the fight against sight loss.

“With your support, we can create a world that everyone can see”

Instead of upstaging or outshining any of its stakeholders, the new brand embraced its role of bringing together bright minds and big hearts to help accelerate the end of sight loss.

Collaborative positivism in design

Messaging aside, collaborative positivism can and should also play a prominent role in guiding design. As shown below, Fight for Sight embraces rich colours and bold visual cues to embed an inherent sense of forward progression and collective action – taking the time to showcase beneficiaries enjoying life due to the charity’s funded research, as well as the individuals involved in developing those breakthroughs in the first place.

But don’t just take my word for it

In the months following the launch of their new brand, Fight for Sight more than doubled their online donations, extended their media reach by 48% and increased awareness by 11% with key audiences.

The rebrand was even shortlisted for ‘best brand development’ in this year’s Third Sector Awards.

In the wake of COVID-19, collaborative positivism can help to cut through the clutter and give your charity a much needed edge – while also providing a more refreshing and dignified approach to brand-building and communications.

If this article has piqued your interest or you are looking for support from an experienced brand and comms strategist, please feel free to drop me an email or to reach out to me via my LinkedIn profile.


Stay safe,
Ryan Thomson


*Ryan helped to lead the brand strategy work on Fight for Sight’s rebrand as part of the Spencer du Bois team. He has since moved into the freelance world of brand and comms strategy. If you’d like to read more about the work of Spencer du Bois please visit their website: Spencer du Bois.


Photo by Jason Rosewell on Unsplash

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