#GivingTuesday and Responsible Giving

#GivingTuesday and Responsible Giving

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#GivingTuesday and Responsible Giving

By Alexandra Blaney

The Tuesday after Thanksgiving in the United States, November 28th, is #GivingTuesday – the designated day to give to charities. Since its founding by the New York-based 92Y in 2012, along with the United Nations Foundation, #GivingTuesday has grown into a global phenomenon with similar campaigns extended in many other countries.  You probably have been inundated with emails from charities asking you to give on #GivingTuesday and have seen the social media posts.  But before you give, you should do your due diligence and make sure you are giving responsibly.

The issue of responsible giving is something that was really brought home to us in the making of our latest film The Wrong Light.  Mickey Choothesa had founded an organization in Thailand called COSA with an “upstream” prevention approach to trafficking. He promoted COSA as a sanctuary providing educational opportunities for young girls and his work drew international donors, a steady stream of western visitors, and global press attention. However, conversations with both the girls and their families contradicted Mickey’s version of their stories, and we unexpectedly uncovered both financial and marketing fraud.  As a filmmaking organization, we were already sensitive to issues of representation (and recently wrote about our thoughts on media literacy), but this experience led us to believe that narrative transparency is just as important as financial transparency for non-profits and donors.

A new survey done by the BBB (Better Business Bureau) found that millennial parents are more likely than Gen X, boomer, or Silent generation parents to research charities before making a donation and to discuss giving with their children.[i]  We should follow millenials’ lead and all do this.  To help you, we’ve developed this checklist of what you should be looking for before you give.

    1. Verify Your Charity is actually a charity. Just because they are asking for donations does not mean they are actually a registered charity. There are a number of websites that provide information on charities, including whether or not they are a 501(c)(3) public charity registered with the IRS (in the US). org, Guidestar.org, and Give.org are a couple recommendations.
    2. Check for Financial Transparency. Transparent organizations should have their financials publicly available for you to view.  You can read over the 990 tax returns but also check to see if they have annual reports that may present financials in an easier to understand format (along with impact information).
    3. Check for narrative transparency. The choices that organizations make in their use of images and messaging reflects the organization’s values and has an impact on the people they are trying to help.
      1. Does the organization have a published Images and Media Policy or is it a signatory to an existing code?
      2. If not, when you look at the organizations images and messaging, do they appear to be presenting people with dignity and respect and providing context for the images.  You can read a comprehensive images and message code of conduct developed by Dóchas here.
    4.  Follow Through. After you’ve given, does the charity follow through?
      1. You should receive a receipt for your donation, at least for tax purposes
      2. The organization should also report on their work and how they used donations to further their mission.
    5. This is just a starting point on giving responsibly and respectfully.  You are giving because you want to help make the world a better place for all people, so take steps to ensure your money is actually contributing to long-term, sustainable impact that will transform people’s lives.


      [i] http://www.give.org/news-updates/news/2017/11/new-survey-millennials-are-raising-the-next-philanthropic-superheroes/

Media Literacy Week 2017 & The Wrong Light

Media Literacy Week 2017 & The Wrong Light

Blog

Media Literacy Week 2017 & The Wrong Light

By Alexandra Blaney

With #FakeNews trending and the current investigations into Russian propaganda revealing that an estimated third of Americans saw Russian ads during the 2016 election, media literacy has become an essential skill.

Think back to the last interesting thing you read on social media.  Do you remember the source of that post?  Did you click through to read the actual article or did you only look at it in your news feed (perhaps click share) and then move on?  With the amount of time we all spend consuming a cornucopia of media via words, images, and sounds carefully composed and targeted based on data – we need to expand our literacy skills to be able to think critically about the messages we receive – and also that we create and share. If we can develop into informed and reflective media consumers, we will be able to be better donors and activists and wiser voters.

For us, we came face to face with the issue of how media and storytelling is used to play to our own biases and interests in the making of The Wrong Light (2016).  We decided to make that film because we were drawn to (an ultimately false) story of the sex trade in Thailand and how desperate parents had to consider selling their children while one heroic activist worked to stop them.  It had all the elements of a great narrative arc and we had incredible access to the story through the purported activist Mickey Choothesa.  But as our directors Josie Swantek Heitz and Dave Adams uncovered over the course of filming, his story was completely fabricated.  He had been relying on people’s attraction to these types of stories to raise funds and gain media attention – it didn’t matter that these stories were made up by him and didn’t represent the lives of the girls at the COSA shelter at all.  It is what people wanted to hear and what they responded to and so that’s what he used.

And we were not the only ones attracted to this story: VICE published a glowing portrait of Mickey; PRI used him as one of their main sources in a multi-part piece on sex-trafficking; donors and volunteers around the world gave money and time to his organization.  This widespread support of a fraudulent organization made us reexamine our own role in creating narratives as filmmakers and also our role as donors and activists. We felt that we all – creators and activists alike – needed to be more aware of the ethics of humanitarian storytelling and how representations of other people, especially the most disenfranchised, can affect their everyday lives.  We hoped that audiences would see our film The Wrong Light and be inspired to consider the public’s desire for exaggerated and/or untrue narratives and move towards a greater demand for transparency, informed consent from subjects of stories, and due diligence in storytelling.  We faced the obstacle of trying to convince people that representation and narrative transparency actually mattered and had real world consequences. And then the 2016 presidential election happened and the topic of media transparency and media literacy has been at center stage.

A recent Stanford study showed that students at almost every grade level cannot distinguish fake news from real news and while they consume media for as many as 10-11 hours a day, they do not have the critical media literacy skills they need to judge it. To develop future citizens, future activists, future media consumers and creators, we need to ensure they have the critical media literacy skills they’ll need to navigate a minefield of content coming at them from every side.

We’ve compiled a list of resources teachers and parents can use:


[1] https://namle.net/publications/media-literacy-definitions/
[2] https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/the-press-office/2016/11/17/remarks-president-obama-and-chancellor-merkel-germany-joint-press
[3] https://ed.stanford.edu/news/stanford-researchers-find-students-have-trouble-judging-credibility-information-online
[4] Rideout, Victoria J., et al. “Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8- to 18-Year-Olds.” Kaiser Family Foundation, January 2010.

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