Quality Principle 6. Communication

Development and humanitarian organisations communicate truthfully and ethically.

Rationale

Quality Principle 6 recognises the importance of our communications in building and maintaining trust with all stakeholders. Integrity in all our communication is critical to building and sustaining confidence among donors and stakeholders. Ensuring that communications are developed with integrity provides organisations with credibility among key stakeholders, including the communities that it seeks to support and donors from whom it receives support.

ACFID Members’ donors and supporters should have a clear understanding of Member organisation’s values. These values should be aligned to the values of the ACFID Code of Conduct and the way Members' work is communicated. To demonstrate integrity, marketing materials should reflect both the Member organisation’s values and the values of the ACFID Code of Conduct to which it is are a signatory. 

This Quality Principle recognises that it is important to maintain the reputation, credibility and trust of NGOs amongst all stakeholders and foster the principles of fairness and cooperation amongst NGOs in the sector. Accurate communications about our own and other NGOs is important in building trust and credibility in the public domain and amongst other stakeholders including partners and communities. Misinformation or negative information about one NGO will impact on the perception of the sector as a whole.  The Commitment to truthful communications (6.1) does not discourage the use of a responsible complaints mechanism where a legitimate concern with another NGO arises. The Code of Conduct has a robust complaints mechanism which should be followed. It respects the principles of confidentiality, independence and response.

Communications have a critical role not only as a marketing tool, but as an important component of our overall approach to accountability and transparency. This Quality Principle received broad endorsement in Member consultations. The Principle also includes reference to the ‘ACFID Fundraising Charter’ which is articulated in Quality Principle 8 and has been developed alongside the proposed Code.

Quality Principle 6 is implemented through two Commitments by ACFID Members.

Commitments

Commitment 6.1 We are truthful in our communications.

Compliance Indicators

Compliance with the Commitments will be assessed against the following Compliance Indicators. All of the applicable Compliance Indicators must be met by every ACFID Member to be considered compliant with the Code. Each of the Compliance Indicators has one or more compliance Verifiers. Verifiers are the description of evidence that is required to substantiate compliance with each Compliance Indicator. Guidance is also provided. 

6.1.1 Members’ public materials accurately describe the organisation and its work.

Verifier

Public materials which:

  • Are obtained and used according to ethical principles.
  • Are consistent with their stated purpose and values.
  • Accurately describe the nature and scope of their work.
  • Acknowledge the role of partners.
  • Are consistent with ACFID’s Fundraising Charter where the public materials relate to fundraising.

Guidance

Public materials might include an organisation's website, social media pages, newsletters, appeals, television advertisements, brochures. The ACFID Fundraising Charter can be downloaded in the Resources Section below. 

6.1.2 Members have organisational protocols for the approval of public materials.

Verifier

Policy, statement, guidance document or checklist outlining the protocols for the approval of public materials.  

Guidance

Protocols for the approval of public material will differ for every Member but should be comprehensive enough to ensure that images, messages, and stories used in public materials are obtained and used according to ethical principles, are consistent with the Member's stated purpose and values, accurately describe the nature and scope of their work,  context of situation and environment where collected, acknowledge the role of partners, and are consistent with ACFID’s Fundraising Charter where they relate to fundraising. ACFID’s Fundraising Charter can be found in the Resources Section below. 

Good Practice Indicators

The following Good Practice Indicators describe a higher standard of practice than that set out in the Compliance Indicators. While Members do not need to meet the Good Practice Indicators to be considered compliant with the Code, they will self-assess against these indicators once every three years. This provides a clear pathway for Members to strengthen and improve practice over time.

  • A communications focal person is in place.
  • Training is provided for communications personnel on organisational protocols, Fundraising Institute of Australia guidelines and ACFID’s Fundraising Charter.
  • Communication materials are reviewed periodically to ensure they comply with organisational policies, ethical decision making frameworks and the ACFID Code of Conduct.
  • Commitment to the ACFID Fundraising Charter is published on the organisation website. 

GUIDANCE AND RESOURCES 

Good Practice Guidance

Here are some practical suggestions for your organisation to further deepen and improve practice over time. 

Organisation and policy

  • Create and document a policy or guidelines, approved by your governing body, for all public campaigns and fundraising activities. The document should include reference to:
    • The requirement for accurate and truthful depictions of your organisation and its work
    • Guidance to ensure respect and dignity of the individuals portrayed as active and positive agents in the aid and development process
    • Accurate disclosure of the types, amounts and/or ratios of fundraising expenses
  • Develop a manual or implementation guide to accompany the policy or guidelines. This would include plans and approaches for fundraising, detailed implementation guidance, and a checklist to ensure that all images and text have been considered for compliance with the obligations outlined in this Standard.
  • Establish an monitoring system that tracks designated contributions
  • Establish staff responsibilities and a clear process for reviewing images and text for compliance with this Standard prior to their use
  • Establish governance principles for Executive/Board to ensure approval of the use of images and text
  • Prepare examples of images and text that directly and unequivocally demonstrate the correct and approved fundraising approaches by your organisation or any representative of the organisation
  • Provide regular training for staff, volunteers and contractors in the correct and approved use of images and messages, for example using the examples from the preceding bullet point
  • Involve program staff in decisions regarding images and messages for fundraising appeals
  • Inform donors of the percentages of their contributions that will go to overseas programs, to administrative costs, and to offset fundraising expenses.

Images and text

  • Images and text used in public campaigns and materials should:
    • Be accurate
    • Portray beneficiaries as active agents in the aid and development process where this is the case
    • Portray all people with respect, honesty and dignity
    • Put a human face on or give a personal and truthful story about the impact of a disaster, or the difficulties stemming from injustice
    • Present a message of potential change
    • Appeal for support on the basis of justice and common humanity rather than guilt
    • Emphasise respectful and truthful accounts of the issue, story, purpose of the appeal and the experience of people affected, and the environment and the context of the situation - neither embellishing or underselling.
    • Portray a balanced picture of the needs and accomplishments of local communities
    • Contribute to a positive understanding of development
  • Images and text should not:
    • Portray beneficiaries as objects of charity or as victims
    • Portray beneficiaries as disempowered or inferior
    • Fuel prejudice
    • Foster a sense of superiority
    • Present donors as ‘going to the rescue’
    • Use language that is not inclusive
    • Be edited, manipulated, doctored or altered after being obtained to change context, facts, appearance, etc.
  • Fundraising solicitations should include accurate wording describing the intended use of funds, and realistic expectations of what will be achieved with them
  • Images and text of children must comply with your organisation’s child protection policies (see Standard B.3.4 Protection of Children)
  • Relevant partners, overseas staff and, if possible, the people being depicted should be invited to provide comment and approval on the images used.

Resources

Commitment 6.2 We collect and use information ethically.

Compliance Indicators

Compliance with the Commitments will be assessed against the following Compliance Indicators. All of the applicable Compliance Indicators must be met by every ACFID Member to be considered compliant with the Code. Each of the Compliance Indicators has one or more compliance Verifiers. Verifiers are the description of evidence that is required to substantiate compliance with each Compliance Indicator. Guidance is also provided. 

6.2.1 Members’ communications are accurate, respectful, and protect privacy and dignity.

Verifier

An ethical decision-making framework, which must:

  • Align with the values of their organisation and this Code.
  • Commit the organisation to the use of images and messages in communications in a way that portrays the affected people in a manner that respects their dignity, values, history, religion, language and culture, and is authentic to the context, person and terms of consent given.
  • Be consistent with ACFID’s Fundraising Charter (8.1.2).
  • Be consistent with the Members’ privacy policy (7.2.2).

Guidance

An ethical decision-making framework assists Members to make decisions about the images, messages, and stories that it uses in communications with the public. It would describe steps that can be used to guide the Member through a process to make a decision when confronted with an ethical dilemma - such as whether to use a story, image or message to raise awareness or funds. 

6.2.2 Members have organisational requirements for the collection of information, images, and stories.

Verifier

Policy, statement or guidance document that:

  • Commits the organisation to use images and messages in communications in a way that portrays the affected people (including children) in a manner that respects their dignity, values, history, religion, language and culture, and protects their safety and rights.
  • Is consistent with ACFID’s Fundraising Charter (see 8.1.2).
  • Includes a requirement for free, prior and informed consent and acknowledges people’s right to information.
  • Requires that the collection of information, images and stories does not harm people or the environment.
  • Applies to all information, stories and images collected for research, evaluation, and donor and supporter purposes.

Guidance

Your policy, statement or guidance document might be included within a broader communications policy or guidelines, or as a stand-alone document that directly addresses the collection of information, images and stories. The key aspects that must be addressed are outlined in the verifier to this Compliance Indicator. 

6.2.3 Members are respectful and considerate of the reputation of other ACFID Members.

Verifier

Policy, statement or guidance document that commits the Member to not making statements about other ACFID Members with the intention of creating a reputational or other advantage to themselves.  

Guidance

A policy, statement or guidance document might outline the NGO sector’s commitment to principles of fairness and cooperation, identify the risks to the sector as a whole if individual member NGOs develop a bad reputation, and refer to the complaint mechanisms that are available through ACFID's Code of Conduct Committee if there is a legitimate and well-founded concern about another NGO.

Good Practice Indicators

The following Good Practice Indicators describe a higher standard of practice than that set out in the Compliance Indicators. While Members do not need to meet the Good Practice Indicators to be considered compliant with the Code, they will self-assess against these indicators once every three years. This provides a clear pathway for Members to strengthen and improve practice over time.

  • Procedures for seeking consent for the use of images and stories are available in local languages and other forms such as images to ensure full accessibility to stakeholders. 
  • Training is provided to key personnel and partners  on appropriate ways to collect and use information, images and stories. The organisational ethical decision making framework is used to guide this.
  • Copies of communications or fundraising materials which use images or stories of primary stakeholders are provided to those stakeholders. 
  • The use of images and stories in communications and fundraising materials is jointly defined with the primary stakeholders involved.

GUIDANCE AND RESOURCES 

Good Practice Guidance

Here are some practical suggestions for your organisation to further deepen and improve practice over time. 

Organisational level

  • Integrate your policy on collecting information, images and stories into appropriate policies and guidelines relating to media, communications, marketing and fundraising
  • Ensure that staff involved in public engagement activities are familiar with key communications policies and guidelines
  • Provide awareness-raising, guidance and training to relevant staff, which could include the use of case studies
  • Undertake periodic reviews of all communication materials to ensure that images and messages respect the dignity, values, history, religion and culture of the people portrayed. 

Policy and guidelines

  • Develop and implement a policy on the portrayal of local people and the use of images and pictures, including not visually altering images or significantly changing/editing direct quotes after they have been obtained to alter meaning and context.
  • Include a commitment to presenting individuals in respectful ways within relevant policies such as communications, marketing and fundraising
  • Develop practical guidelines for use by staff, volunteers or contractors when documenting stories or taking photos in the field, including appropriate approaches to gaining consent for collecting images and stories. Verbal consent may be more appropriate than written consent in some contexts.
  • Keep records of the origins of images and case studies, permissions and copyright releases, as well as key details including name, age, location, date, program association and form of consent gained
  • Developing a repository for these records to provide a quality control mechanism that ensures that images and case studies used are appropriate, accurate and consensual
  • Seek advice from field partners and overseas staff on risks related to using images and case studies
  • Ensure file labels do not reveal identifying information about a child when sending images electronically
  • Ensure geo-tags are turned off on the camera when taking images.
  • Develop approval protocols to ensure that any image, photo or story that is used in communication materials meets ethical guidelines established by your organisation. 

Guidance for images and messages

  • Present photographs, films, videos, DVDs and messages of women and men, boys and girls in a respectful manner, honestly portraying their personal experience and context and as partners in the development process
  • Do not use images or messages that manipulate the story to portray people in a pitiful way or that embellishes/exaggerates the impact of your organisation’s work.
  • Do not create images of children where they are not adequately clothed and in poses that could be seen as sexually suggestive
  • Ensure images are honest representations of the context and facts
  • Portray participants in activities which reflect their daily lives
  • Convey the context and complexity of the situations in which local people live. Images of people in vulnerable situations should focus more on the reasons for and the context of a situation, rather than on an individual’s suffering.
  • Honestly portray the diversity of local people including age, disability and other marginalised groups
  • Inform key persons in images of what the image is being used for, where the image will be used and over what period of time.  and obtain their permission. In the case of a child, obtain consent from a parent or guardian.
  • Show some examples of the kinds of materials that are produced so that those involved understand how their personal details and story might be used.
  • Ensure images and information and the associated permissions being used are current - information should not be used indefinitely
  • Terms of informed consent should include a period of time for which consent has been given – 1, 3 or 5 years.
  • Where possible and appropriate, use the names of those photographed when captioning the image to give people a voice and identity
  • Ensure that the identification of or use of images of local people will not bring them into any danger
  • When photographing or filming a person, identify and seek to comply with local traditions or restrictions for reproducing personal images
  • Ensure those whose situation is being represented have the opportunity to communicate their stories themselves. Consider using local spokespersons to show that local people are actively involved in development or humanitarian work
  • Use images and messages to diversify voices, perspectives, and representations in your public communications, including critical reflection from partners and communities and an examination of your organisation’s values. 
  • Quote people accurately – without doctoring, manipulating or altering quotes to suit communications.
  • Ensure you use a competent translator fluent in both languages.

Resources