Save the Children having a 'very live' conversation about its name, fundraising director reveals

Gemma Sherrington was speaking at a session of Third Sector's Fundraising Conference about the end of the 'saviour' narrative within charity

Gemma Sherrington
Gemma Sherrington

Save the Children is having a “very live” conversation about the problematic implications of its name, its executive director of fundraising and marketing has said. 

Speaking during a session at Third Sector’s Fundraising Conference last week about the end of the 'saviour' narrative within charity, Gemma Sherrington told delegates that it was not a conversation the organisation took lightly. 

In response to a question about what it meant for Save the Children to have that name at a time when the sector was trying to move away from a 'saviour' narrative, she acknowledged the implications were huge. 

“It is a conversation that is very live in our global organisation – we’re in 120 countries around the world and are called Save the Children in all of them, so it is a big deal for us,” Sherrington said. 

“All I can say is we have noticed, we are having the conversation, and we are thinking about that as a global movement.”

But, she said, it was a difficult conversation precisely because the Save the Children name was so well known around the world – not just from a branding point of view, but also in the charity’s frontline work.

“People know that name in humanitarian situations, they know what that means and what that means is happening. 

“So it’s not a conversation we’re taking lightly and that we can just change our name tomorrow because it’s got impact implications if we’re not recognisable,” she said, before inviting “suggestions on a postcard”. 

During the session, which looked at how organisations could represent need without misrepresenting people, Sherrington also noted that “an organisation like Save the Children has othering in its DNA” because it was set up by people in one country to help a group of people in another, prompting the organisation to think about its role and how it should operate in the future. 

“The important thing is it's not just about communications, it's about the whole system, it’s about how your organisation works,” she said. 

The focus for Save the Children, she said, was on empowering young people and their families around the world in decision-making and shifting power and resources from the charity’s head offices in London, not just to local offices but to communities and community-level organisations around the world.

Sherrington also acknowledged that asking for donations in this context was difficult, picking up on a point from fellow panellist Karin Woodley, chief executive of the social justice and anti-poverty charity Cambridge House, who argued that “shopping list”-style fundraising asks, which tell donors what £2 or £5 a month could buy, were unhelpful because they suggest that entrenched structural problems could be solved easily and with very little money.

Sherrington agreed, saying that some traditional fundraising messaging had oversimplified situations the charity was working to resolve, misrepresented the people involved and “trained” donors to respond to 'saviour' narrative messaging, which resulted in donors being “allowed to demonstrate generosity while perpetuating injustice”.

She said she felt that neither Save the Children nor the wider sector had fully developed solutions to this issue yet, but that it could be “beyond our imagination to try to do things differently”.

She said: “We’ve got to try to elicit compassion as a response from much more specific, real communication, but I'm not sitting here saying we’ve solved it. 

“It’s really hard, it makes me wring my hands and scratch my head – and so it should.”

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