Watch the most offensive international charity video of the year

The Norwegian Students’ and Academics’ International Assistance Fund is back with its Rusty Radiator award for worst/most offensive charitable fundraising video in 2014. The winner loser for this year was a pretty easy choice.

Feed a Child South Africa’s campaign video features a wealthy white woman feeding a child like a dog. The video uses the comparison to say that domestic dogs eat better than the millions of children who go hungry. That may be true, but comparing children to dogs and using one to act like a dog is not such a great idea.

It beat out stiff competition from Concern Worldwide, Save the Children USA and CCF Canada. People were encouraged to vote for the worst of the bunch. The numbers were used, alongside a special jury of people ranging from Sierra Leonean-American DJ Boima Tucker to Ugandan communications professional Rosebell Kagumire.

“The message doesn’t justify using the same stereotypes to both raise awareness and steal agency. The poor are already depicted as incapable of their own rescue, now they are being compared to dogs,” wrote the jury about the campaign.

The swift backlash after the video was released forced the organization to publish this response in place of the video:

As a counter-point to the worst of the worst, there was also the Golden Radiator award for the best example of charity campaigns. The nominated videos featured innovative ways of telling stories that above all else, maintain the dignity of the people the charities say they want to help. Ironically, it was Save the Children U.K. (remember, the U.S. team was nominated for a Rusty Radiator) that took home the award for its video imaging how the life of a young girl in the U.K. would be affected if the country descended into a civil war like that in Syria.

“Any advocacy ad that can put you in the middle of the situation instead of casting people and situations you’d never imagine is a good one. This video presents conflict porn without overwhelming you with it, because you are so invested in this girl’s tragic day,” wrote the jury about the video.

As it turns out, I spoke with the campaign team about Save the Children USA’s videos earlier this year. Personally, I found the video to be a clever attempt at showing that there is no way to put a spin on poverty. My conversation with the team behind the video reveals that thoughtful process and why it is important for the organization to be able to try things out.

The success of the Syria campaign by Save the Children U.K. was an influence. That video has more than 43 million views since its March release. The sudden rise in viewers was a pleasant surprise for Save the Children. It is a deserving winner of the award, but it cannot be separated from its U.S. counterpart. The push to change the way that charities communicate with donors and run campaigns is what produces both extremes. We should celebrate what works and learn from what fails, but remember that moving past the tired poverty porn seen in the Feed a Child South Africa campaign means taking chances.

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Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.