What is Compassion Fatigue and How to Prevent It

The purpose of advertisements for charities is to invoke a psychological response, triggered by complex emotions usually through the means of storytelling. Guilt is a common approach that charities try to conjure out of their audience. Charity adverts want to call upon ‘anticipatory guilt’ which is the feeling of guilt that follows or precedes inaction. This is caused by the underlying awareness of one’s responsibility to avoid or help avoid someone experiencing an unfortunate occurrence. Increased sense of guilt of being responsible for others misfortune increases financial contributions. In a study, they found that in charity advertisements, guilt appeals to a stronger donation intention than with non-guilt appeals. The same study also found that the impact of guilt appeals on donation intention will be mediated by a sense of responsibility. This high sense of responsibility could potentially increase the chances of a person donating more than once as well.


A charity's advertisement induces a ‘two-sided effect,' compassion and proximity, on the one hand, and distantiation on the other. What causes the reaction of creating this emotional distance is the distrust of an advertisement or charity, or also caused by compassion fatigue. Distrust can be brought about by the ad itself, i.e., the advertisement has a high production value (this can have the audience question where their donations would be going, to the charity or advertisements). Compassion fatigue can be caused by a long advertisement with multiple examples of suffering, or too many adverts in an acute time frame. Too much guilt can be counterproductive and make audiences not want to donate, due to the consistent invasive feelings of guilt and pity.

Imagery is an important facet to a charity’s advertisement. It gives the audience a visual of the suffering, the foundation is trying to prevent or eradicate. Depictions of suffering can provide evidence of the charity’s cause, giving the audience proof that their donations are very much needed. Thus directly creating the feeling of responsibility among audience viewers. Images that express too much suffering to the point of being grotesque could turn people off from watching or looking at your charities advertisement. There needs to be a balance. A gory image can be impactful if done correctly. A common term for grotesque imagery in adverts is “shock advertising” which takes an image that is riding on the edge of unwatchable and uses it to shock people into either paying attention or donating to the cause, its depictions that will make people question why [whatever is happening in the picture] it is happening.

Positive imagery, recently, has been used a lot more, to prevent compassion fatigue. Positive imagery usually consists of how donations could help who or what is suffering. Charities can also use images of volunteers or fundraisers they have had, show a group of people willingly advocate or fundraise for a cause. Donors who are exposed to positive charity adverts made donations worth 45% more on average. A study has shown that individuals who are surrounded or are exposed to people expressing pro-social behavior have a tendency to do the same, thus making pro-social behaviour the norm. This can increase not only donations but also increase willingness to volunteer and spread awareness of your cause.

There is a thin line between being emotionally invasive enough for the audience to experience pro-social behavior and being too intrusive that people will switch to another channel or ignore the advertisement. A ‘good’ advertisement can have negative aspects to it as long as there is some ultimate goal or positive response to the issue. Good charity ads invoke emotions and give that push to support the cause instinctually. ‘Good’ advert in this context means an advertisement that increases support and draw in new supporters. DRTV adverts can do just that; these adverts are analysed in live time, and can be edited to fit the charities core message. LIKECHARITY has production team that specialises in media buying and creative management to get the most out of the advert. Usually, a good DRTV advertisement share a story that is concise while creating a foundation for the charity’s purpose. This will create a more consolidated following which means more donations.