So, how media report on philanthropy?

Picking up on Nathan’s very good question about qualitative reporting of media and number of criteria that can be used for benchmarking the media reporting, I thought it might be good to share some of the observations and analysis I’ve done…

Overall, my impression was: lack of information. To show what I mean I’ll share my favorite report that I will quote it in full:

“Changing diabetes” is the name of the humanitarian race on which there were 200 people on Saturday”.

End of story. There is nothing about who organized it, why the race was humanitarian, how the money was raised, how the race will help to change diabetes… I mean, I can understand a lack of space, but really!

Of course, not all reports are like this; and, although – when doing an analysis – I haven’t thought of all Nathan’s criteria (will ask for help next time Nathan :)!), I’ll share what I have. To start with Nathan’s questions:

How many include information on the givers? In almost all reports it is possible to draw some kind of conclusion who are those who give, but this is often in a roundabout way. Donors are often mentioned in one or two sentences in general terms such as ‘companies’, ‘local entrepreneur’, ‘generous fellow citizens’ etc. Granted, in cases where there are many donors (campaigns or fundraising for those in need of medical help) it is difficult to mention all of them – however, it wouldn’t hurt to mention one or two by name occasionally! There are of course number of reports where donors are mentioned by name – and this is most often the case with celebrities and companies. But overall, the information is scarce. In this respect, Serbia probably takes the cake, with the story about a donation of over USD 20,000 to a medical institution in which the only information about donors was that money came from Belgrade! 

How many include the beneficiaries? In all four countries there was a certain percentage of reports from which  it was not even possible to distinguish the exact purpose (or beneficiaries) of donation/action at all; i.e. report would state “the income from [concert, TV show etc] is going for humanitarian purposes” without any specifics. Thus for example, the purpose is not clear in 1,5% of cases/donations in Montenegro, 2,8% of the reports in Serbia, 3,7% of cases in Croatia, 4,3% of cases in B&H.

The amount of resources provided? The amount is provided in only 20 – 25% of reports (depending on the country). If the report is about the fundraising action that is happening at the time of reporting, targets are mentioned almost exclusively in the reports on the need for medical treatment.

A follow-up to the original article was made to track how the activity has progressed and whether it met its intended goals? 

 Well, this is an interesting one. As you can see from the chart, feedback seem to be not that important or attractive; not even one third of the actions/ donations were reported on later. It would be interesting to find out why, especially given that citizens in the polls usually say they don’t give more because they don’t know what happened with the money…

I don’t have exact numbers on the other criteria/information that Nathan mentioned, but here are some observations:   

How the philanthropy will improve the life of the beneficiary(ies)  – although I haven’t actually done counting on this one, my impression was the life of beneficiaries was mentioned in the reports which are actively directed to raising more money (again, most often these are articles reporting on need for medical treatment and calling for further donations). However, the interesting thing is that it was not as much as how the life of beneficiaries would improve, but about how their life is difficult now. The words used in the articles, though positive, were quite ‘charity’ oriented: beneficiaries often presented as people that need to be pitied. (In all honesty, media or journalists are not only one to blame for that – if it was media appeal, those who were asking for support often presented situation in such terms). This type of writing is especially characteristic in cases of poverty, medical treatment, children (with illness or those with disabilities). However, it would be interesting to see if the positively framed reports – how the life would improve instead of how life is difficult would actually influence change of perspective of potential donors?

Information on how readers can get involved in the activity (website, donation account number, etc,)? Again, without numbers, but from what I recall, this information is provided in all the cases in which fundraising is happening in the time of reporting: i.e. the need for medical treatment, or the campaigns etc. But wouldn’t it be good if newspapers reported on donation provided to CSO working with Roma children, and added: …”and if you wish to help, you can call XXX-XXX”.

A benchmark could also include whether quotes from both the donor and beneficiaries were obtained – from what I remember – not in many cases; this, I think, is also consequence of short reports – if you have just a small space for providing information, quotes really don’t come as first information to be shared.  

So an average citizen reading one newspaper and following couple of electronic media would hardly be able to get the decent information. And I believe that – if the situation was different – people might be more ready to consider giving… What do you think?

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Aleksandra Vesic