Communications: Campaigning - Don't ban emotion from our work

The announcement by the Fundraising Standards Board that it has dropped its plan to prevent charities from using "excessive emotional arguments", which make people feel guilty and obliged to give more, is good news to those of us who campaign for change.

But were charities really prepared to sign up to such a subjective principle? Who decides whether an argument is "excessively emotional" and whether images or words cause unjustifiable distress or offence? One person might be moved to complain, whereas another might be moved to tears and then to write a cheque.

I recall one Comic Relief night when the reports on child cruelty and abuse, segmented between the sketches and celebrity guest appearances, seemed to be even more awful than ever. I remember thinking just how numbing it all was. Then it broadcast images of an orphaned baby in South America, who had been left in the 'care' of his seven-year-old brother to survive on the streets. He was old enough to walk, but couldn't, because his toes had been bitten off by rats. Needless to say, that got my attention - and my money.

Emotion is often the most powerful and influential tool we have.

Distressing issues or circumstances present themselves all too regularly.

The real offence is that we subscribe to the notion that the public can cope only if we tone down how these issues are presented or reported.

Television news has played the 'look away now' card very well over the years when portraying harrowing images that illustrate humanitarian disasters.

And just as viewers can self-regulate, I believe that prospective supporters and donors can do the same. We have to make our case compelling, but people can choose to join us or not - and that's just as it should be.

I've worked in the third sector for more than 15 years, and it never ceases to amaze me how it ties itself up in knots, is constantly wracked with guilt and is always promising to do better.

I have no problem with most of what the FSB represents. It hopes to become a gold standard for fundraising excellence and a safety net for donors, which should be applauded.

The problem is that ours is a sector saturated with so many causes and reasons to look away. We must stop apologising - we are not the problem. We aim to be the solution. We campaign to make a difference and the public, in the main, are grateful that we do. We draw attention to the world's injustices and we invite our charitable neighbours to make what contributions they can. Sometimes we might get it wrong. We're human too. Susan Osborne is director of the RNID's Breaking the Sound Barrier campaign

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