Online Activists and the Weary Reader

When the conference begins, I’ll have loaded up my three boys, fed my pregnant belly, somehow put on makeup and prepared my heart to deal with some threatening facts. I trust that I can approach the Idea Camp Orphan Care Conference without a sense of dread. Orphan Care Advocates can put the weary straight into anything if the advocating is not done with grace.

How are you feeling now that I’ve brought it up, Orphan Care? Do you already feel yourself wanting to click away? Please not another project, not another video boasting children with flies in their eyes. If someone else asks me how much I spend on my coffee every day, I might die or swear off anything with sentimental music!

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has chosen to turn away, who has been numbed by the numbers and access to so much tear-jerk marketing.

Some of us are orphan care advocates in this world of social media, swamped with important causes and touching images. As online activists, we risk losing even long-time readers when we begin to request support for our cause. When trying to push readers into compassion that spurs them on to action, we’re asking them to swallow more numbers, more heart ache, and – often times – more guilt.

Readers are overloaded and information fatigued.

Would you consider some of these questions in the comments because so many advocates are unsuccessful? Can you tell me why are stay and why you click away?

How do we avoid using “fly-in-the-eye” images that cause readers to feel manipulated while still sharing the truth of the dire need of millions of orphans?

How do we engage a reader’s mind and hold attention spans while sob stories seem a dime a dozen?

How do we invite readers into our own passions and spur them into action without exhausting their sense of empathy?

What orphan care stories have held your attention and pushed you into action? What Orphan Care Projects have you seen done well?

If you haven’t already considered joining us in NWA for the Orphan Care Conference, please register. With your help here, I’ll be joining in a panel conversation there with Dan from Bible Dude, Kristen Welch from We Are THAT Family, Elora Nicole from Love Wins, Lindsey Nobles from I’m Just Sayin’, and Kristen Howerton from Rage Against the Minivan.

About me


For the Dreamers of Drouin
April 15, 2014
On Broken Parts in Regular Towns: Alabama, Arkansas, and Haiti
April 03, 2014
Joseph – Defender of the Fatherless
December 15, 2010


emily freeman
Reply February 18, 2011

I've been thinking about this very thing this week - Just as the panelists talked at Blissdom about compassion fatigue - I feel myself both fatigued by the stories and, at the same time, surprised at my fatigue.

I think there is some kind of secret in hope - to find the drops of hope and redemption in the midst of the broken - I think that's what keeps me around.

Reply February 18, 2011

I agree, Emily.

I was looking at Mercy House Kenya last night, and I am drawn to it. It's hard to think about this stuff in terms of marketing, but aesthetically pleasing pages pull me in no matter what, especially when it comes to Africa. To see vivid colors and smiling faces is true to Kenya. It's not promoting help for a people that know only gray. They are beautiful and have as much to offer us in this redemption story as we do them.

Some of it may be a dignity issue?

Reply February 18, 2011

you know, honestly, i'm so fatigued with actual orphan CARE, that i don't get involved in reading/participating in talking about it much any more.

personally, i want to see a lot more info and engagement with what comes AFTER you act and less playing on the emotions.

(i hope i don't sound horribly jaded and snippy....just weary today. *smile*)

    Reply February 18, 2011

    TONIA! Seriously, thank you for this response. This is exactly what we're needing to hear.

    I'm weary, too, and I feel like we're hardly hearing even a hair of the real story, the whole story.

Lindsey Nobles
Reply February 18, 2011

I think sometimes we are so impassioned by our cause that we forget that it is not everyone's cause. We need to act and tell our stories about how it has effected us and others. And not be frustrated when not every reader jumps behind our cause. Because the harsh reality is that resources are limited. We don't know where are readers are, or who they already give to. Everyone has the right to make their own decisions on how they intentionally invest their resources.

I think a lot of times we get overwhelmed by the need because we are so immersed in it, and our posts sound a little judgmental towards those that can't or chose not to help. And that is not fair.

Lindsey Nobles
Reply February 18, 2011

And my pet peeve is when people use really harsh images to tell a story. I recently watched a video about an orphanage in Haiti and they choose to tell the story by showing this malnourished baby's scrawny little legs. Over. And over again. It made me furious.

V. Higgins
Reply February 18, 2011

I agree with Tonia, having information on what action and support does in a real life (beyond they'll have food, as bad as that sounds). With Compassion one of the things I really enjoy about them is they tell you, with real testimonies, the impact your involvement can have on these kids hearts, how it literally changes their lives. That is encouraging and makes me want to take action, write letters to my sponsor child, pray for them, constantly thinking about taking on another one. It's exciting, knowing we can have an impact on their hearts and their life trajectory, just by loving on them.

Reply February 18, 2011

For me, if the situation is sensationalized too much than it becomes overwhelming. I don't mean that horrific situations should be downplayed, but I think overwhelming fear can be paralyzing. My budget is very limited, but causes like Mercy House and Heartline (following through the Livesay's blog) explain the needs without making it seem like my little bit won't make a difference. I also appreciate how they discuss what the money is directly being used for and in the Livesay's case, seeing the lives that are being helped (they show the hard things too but also the happy times too). Does that make sense?

We are THAT family
Reply February 18, 2011

I'm trying so hard to balance all this. It's a true struggle. I have Compassion fatigue and just fatigue in general :) But we are called to compassion and I just keep thinking about the poor and how tired they are of not having a voice. So, I press on. I just pray I can do it in a way that doesn't turn people off. Sometimes it's hard to be their voice and still keep your own.

Reply February 18, 2011

I love before/after shows on tv- whether it's weight loss or a house make-over I love seeing it. I wonder if somehow they could show what life was like for an orphan AFTER receiving care- from Compassion or whatever other aid service. Like an interview- or show what they accomplished since. Smiling faces. I also think stats are good. Showing the number of children that die preventable deaths every day is stunning to say the least, overwhelming too. I wonder if they could break down what your money would go towards to as well. Like, even $5 could buy a water filter, or a weeks worth of food... I know they do that some, but I think when you are on a very tight budget, the idea of even $40/month is kind of hard, but if people could start donating $10/month and then gradually give more but know that even what little they are able to give helps. $40 isn't a lot, but when you are looking at bills suddenly it seems like a ton of money! :)

I am very ignorant on all matters regarding orphan care, I always felt like it was for other people, like a spiritual gift or something. Or, it was optional. I think making it normal, and not like it's for the super Christians only. :) How? Don't know- I know the verse saying that those Christians who don't care for the widows and orphans are worse than the unbelievers... how can you remind people of that without sounding like a JERK? :) Like I said, I'm very new to this, God just has recently put orphans and, in particular, children in the foster care system on my heart so I'm still processing and trying to get information on these topics.

Probably most helpful would be information on what you can actually do (other than financial giving,) with a baby at home and a needy toddler at your side- or just in general. Maybe it's folding mail-outs, licking envelopes, helping online... I don't know what the needs are but I have more time than money to donate right now.

Reply February 18, 2011

I'm a mama to two kiddos that my hubby and I adopted from Russia 7 years ago next month. So, for us, adoption was our initial call into orphan care. Seeing the other kids at the orphanage made a huge impact. It's one thing to see a tear-jerking Sally Struthers commercial and quite another thing to see and touch specific children who are orphaned. So, our hearts were enlarged, while our home and time and resources remained limited. For us and our family, we have chosen to support orphan care through donating money towards Christmas presents to our kids' orphanage. Our kids help raise money towards that goal, as well. Our family also donates money to specific local families who are adopting to help defer their costs. We pray for those specific kids and families. It's a drop in the bucket in the scheme of global orphan care, but if it makes a difference to five orphans a year, that's an eternal investment. One idea is to track a child, before and after adoption or fostering. Or have an adoptive family share information about their fundraising, and how one person's 25 bucks paid for having 5 documents notarized towards their adoption paperwork. Adoption isn't the only way to care for orphans, but it's one that permanantly solves the problem, because the child isn't an orphan any longer.

Reply February 19, 2011

I am always drawn to Shaun Groves sage advice about share the story not the statistic. There is also research sited that people give more when they hear a story not statistics. I also agree with Emily's "drops of hope".

I am working on fighting my own compassion fatigue (i.e. it's hard for me to be nice to even my super amazing husband, let alone a stranger syndrome) by unloading my "stuff". I know this sounds random, but I am learning that the more "stuff" I have in the house - it owns me, hardens my heart, makes my world smaller, eats up my time, makes me less likely to give, and ties me down. It goes along with 1John when he said you can love the stuff of the world or God but not both.

Reply February 20, 2011

drops of hope. i love this concept.

Reply February 21, 2011

A friend of mine recently came to know Jesus as her Savior, just about 2 years ago. She immediately felt God's call on her life to return to Vietnam where she swore she would never go. Shortly after arriving there, God began to arrange circumstances and individuals along her path and now, in less than one year, she has a property donated by a local Christian, $20,000 raised, expedited citizenship for herself, and the volunteered help of the owner of one of the largest construction companies in that city. All this for an orphanage God put it on her heart to start when she came curious smile to curious smile with orphans in the town God sent her to. All of this completed within mere months and without a single request for money, only prayers.

I share this story because it proves that God's work will prevail and the less we try to manipulate others to get involved with it, the more glory He receives at the end. George Mueller, anyone? :) Sometimes it seems that the requests to help just one more cause comes across as begging and the advocacy comes across as a personal platform for, well, the advocate.

Some of our family's favorite "causes" have come through the award winning blog of a now personal friend ( who again never asked for money but rather shared the stories of the lives hers came in contact with during her work on the charity ship with Mercy Ships and her personal travel around the world. We were moved to sponsor preschoolers in India and rehabilitating prostitutes in Thailand because we were told their stories and, most importantly, the stories of those who were devoted to bringing God's love to each of them. Ali never asked for money, she just shared the truth, without exaggeration and without apology.

A friend just posted today on fb, "If you are pro-life, you are pro-adoption." A catchy phrase but one that can needle one's spirit and provoke doubt about the work God has called me to. Can I be pro-adoption and yet not adopt? Are the lives of children in the low income neighborhood that we are involved with somehow second rate? Can't I be pro-life and be pro-everyone's-soul?

All this to say, I get it. I get the need and passion others have to raise awareness. But in the end, isn't the Spirit the one who will provoke a response within our hearts? For some it will be for orphans, for others it will be for widows. And for the rest it may be in sowing and seeking a harvest in the cul-de-sac and corporations of their very comfortable neighborhoods. I hardly believe God turns up His nose at the labors of any of His children, no matter what field they are in!

In short, (wait, who am I kidding?! :) invite readers (and the ones who know us in real life, too!) by living out our lives and the call God has given each. And then, rest without guilt and without condemnation, knowing that God is calling and using us all.

Reply February 25, 2011

i agree with the fatigued in general from kristin, so i feel like i don't have a comment at all, but still wanted to say that i really appreciate this. it is a crazy hard balance. i totally related with another blogger the other day that i sometimes [usually?!] count my cute kid/sweet story posts before i can post about orphans again. do people just not want to know? do they think i think that i'm better than them? [i don't.] i just feel the responsiblility to share. to inform. to allow those who can't adopt right now & those that can't physically GO an opportunity to give what they see as a little to add together for MUCH.
Reply April 27, 2014

Maɡnifique poste : unee fois de plus

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