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Furniture Bank leverages AI technology to avoid “poverty porn” in ground-breaking Giving Tuesday campaign

In an innovative pivot, this Toronto-based charity is rewriting the narrative of charitable giving.

Toronto, Ont. – As Giving Tuesday approaches, Canadian inboxes will be flooded with charities leaning on “hard-hitting” photos used to shock donors into giving. Today, Furniture Bank announced a ground-breaking annual campaign that rewrites the narrative of charitable campaigns.

Instead of relying on “poverty porn”—images that exploit, objectify and dehumanize people who are at their most vulnerable—to increase donations, Furniture Bank will be leveraging innovative technology to create these visuals.

We are living in a highly visual reality where photographs are imperative for charities to access support, but how, ethically, can we take pictures of people’s lowest moments?” says Furniture Bank Executive Director, Dan Kershaw. “We can’t and we won’t, and this is why Furniture Bank is turning to Artificial Intelligence.

Instead of trying to capture the realities of furniture poverty through a traditional camera, Furniture Bank is disrupting the fundraising campaign model by engaging with Artificial Intelligence (AI) to create these images. Though AI-generated art is spawning fierce debate in art circles, it allows Furniture Bank to communicate the dire situations its clients are living in with its donors ethically, and responsibly.

By using AI tools, Furniture Bank was able to save up to $60,000 in production costs, using the realities experienced by its clients to describe furniture poverty—sleeping on stained mattresses, children doing their homework on the floor in an empty living room, a kitchen that has nothing but a sink and some cupboards—to generate images that capture the desolation and isolation without compromise clients’ dignity.

Furniture Bank’s 2022 AI-generated campaign can be found here.

In using key words drawn from client experiences, including “bare walls, no furniture, children doing homework on the floor, empty living room”, Furniture Bank and its AI architect were able to generate this image that encapsulates the reality of living in furniture poverty.
There are tens of thousands of agencies working with the five million Canadians experiencing poverty to find housing, but as soon as clients have keys in their hands, most social programs end. These houses, however, are not homes. They might have walls and doors and ceilings, but without tables and chairs, and beds and pots and pans, the newcomers, refugees, women, children, and families emerging from crises continue to experience poverty—furniture poverty.

About Furniture Bank

Founded in 1998, Furniture Bank is a Toronto-based charity and social enterprise with a mission to break the cycle of furniture poverty. Furniture Bank works in partnership with over 200 community agencies to provide people who are economically vulnerable with furniture and home furnishings, a service that enhances both psychological and financial stability. Furniture Bank collects 70,000 furniture items and serves over 3,600 families annually. For further details, visit furniturebank.org.

Media contact

Colleen McCourt
colleen@strategyplus.ca
705-358-2006

The picture isn't real, the reality is.

The 2022 Campaign

The picture isn't real, the reality is

Read about why our these images matter to ending homelessness?

Sample of AI Art used to show how to avoid poverty porn while showing the pain caused by furniture poverty.

Visit the AI photo gallery

40 images created using AI that imagine the reality behind closed doors.

How we used AI art tools for a bigger impact on our Annual Campaign.

Fact Sheet

The reality is real, but the photo isn’t

Furniture Bank is leveraging AI-technology and changing the industry standard of using “poverty porn”

Furniture Bank is leveraging AI-technology and changing the industry standard of using “poverty porn”

Poverty porn is the exploitation of people’s experience of poverty to generate the necessary sympathy for increasing charitable donations, and/or support for a charity for the sake of a privileged audience.

There are many debates around “poverty porn”: there is no denying it works—for more than 40 years, charities of all types have relied on these types of photos to increase awareness, advocacy and fundraising efforts. But these images require significant overheads of time, planning, and expense, and exploit, objectify and dehumanize people who are at their most vulnerable, all to generate a compelling photo for a fundraising campaign.

Toronto-based charity, Furniture Bank has embarked on a ground-breaking annual campaign by leveraging innovative technology to create its required visuals. It is disrupting the charity sector’s reliance on “poverty porn” by engaging with Artificial Intelligence (AI) to create its images. Though AI-generated art is spawning fierce debate in art circles, it allows Furniture Bank to communicate the dire situations its clients are living in with its donors ethically, and responsibly.

In this increasingly visual world, Furniture Bank must leverage photography to raise awareness of and donations for its charitable work eradicating furniture poverty. But how can it ask those coming out of crisis pose for photos of their children sleeping on piles of clothes on the floor, or families eating dinner on a bare floor, or mothers on mildewed mattresses comforting their children?
Furniture Bank is disrupting the fundraising campaign model by engaging with Artificial Intelligence (AI) to create these images.

AI-generated art is the result of a collaboration between an artist and an AI system, like MidJourney, Dall-E and Stable Diffusion. Artists/AI architects work with algorithms to establish specific rules through which thousands of images are analyzed and processed in a specific style/aesthetic.

Though AI art is generating controversy in art circles, leading to questions about the validity of AI-generated art in artistic competitions and gallery spaces, for the charitable sector, it allows Furniture Bank to communicate the dire situations its clients are living in with its donors both ethically, and responsibly.

Though AI-generated images can still be upsetting and are difficult-to-witness images, AI images decouple the element of harm and exploitation from the visuals used by a charity.

AI-generated art is still very new and the designers are still in an experimental phase, discovering together how far it can go. Though it doesn’t entirely replace the work of a traditional designer, it is another graphic design tool that helps to put ideas into visual statements quickly and economically, and is helping Furniture Bank disrupt the charity sector’s reliance on “poverty porn.”

Furniture Bank hired an “AI architect” Pablo Pietropinto, and together developed a working methodology. (More details on this methodology can be found here)

The charity translated the written impact stories from its clients into the words and phrases that described the realities of what furniture poverty looks like behind closed doors. These key phrases then generated the images used in Furniture Bank’s 2022 campaign.

Using AI to generate annual campaign assets saved Furniture Bank over $60,000 in production costs and has already proven to have a much higher ROI than hiring a professional photographer.
In addition to generating images that capture the desolation and isolation without compromising clients’ dignity, using AI to create images is a financially sound investment for charities. Leveraging AI allows more money to be redirected to charitable services, while still being able to bring awareness to the charity’s key issues.6

Using AI generated art will allow charities to increase awareness of their work, and generate donations responsibly, both ethically and financially, without re-traumatizing their clients.

In using key words drawn from client experiences, including “bare walls, no furniture, children doing homework on the floor, empty living room”, Furniture Bank and its AI architect were able to generate this image that encapsulates the reality of living in furniture poverty.

Founded in 1998, Furniture Bank is a Toronto-based charity and social enterprise with a mission to break the cycle of furniture poverty. Furniture Bank works in partnership with over 200 community agencies to provide people who are economically vulnerable with furniture and home furnishings, a service that enhances both psychological and financial stability. Furniture Bank collects 70,000 furniture items and serves over 3,600 families annually. For further details visit furniturebank.org.

Furniture Bank’s 2022 AI-generated campaign can be found here.

Spokesperson

Executive Director Dan Kershaw leads Furniture Bank’s innovative pivot to using AI-technology

From internet gambling, to mobile dating, to ecommerce, to Furniture Bank, Kershaw leverages technology in his work in the charitable sector

Dan Kershaw, MBA, has led an eclectic career spanning over two decades across a wide variety of industries and sectors. With a passion for digital innovation, and a focus on data-driven processes and decisions, Kershaw has led Toronto-based Furniture Bank since 2014.

In his role as Executive Director, Kershaw seeks to expand Furniture Bank’s integrated social employment, environmental and social enterprise model to end furniture poverty across Canada. In 2022, Kershaw pivoted Furniture Bank’s annual campaign to leverage new AI technology, shifting the charity away from “poverty porn” and establishing a new industry standard for using ethical, responsible images within the charity sector.

Kershaw has over 17 years of digital experience in which he led the management and growth of a variety of industries, business challenges, and product innovations from Internet Gambling, Telecommunications, Payment Processing, Web Hosting, Mobile Dating, Mobile Advertising, Mobile Content Solutions, and a variety of eCommerce projects. It was these intensive years that motivated him to build things, analyze everything, and push the limits of conventional thinking and apply himself to a career with meaning.

Under Kershaw’s leadership, Furniture Bank has re-purposed over 400,000 items of furniture heading for landfill into ‘homing’ for over 21,300 families in the GTA. Not only does this support people emerging from poverty, turning empty housing into furnished homes, diverted materials representing nearly 26,000 tonnes of CO2.

Collaborating with companies like IKEA Canada and Furniture Link on circular economy corporate pilots, Kershaw has continuously demonstrated that there are both significant social and environmental impacts associated with reuse and refurbishment charities like Furniture Bank. Kershaw is currently scaling the organization’s Toronto cloud platform to become available nationally, aiming to support a more vibrant impactful and sustainable network of independent Canadian furniture banks.

Kershaw completed his B.A. in Environmental Studies, and went on to complete his M.A.E.S in Environmental Economics and Marketing Technology M.B.A. from the Richard Ivey School of Business.

Notable awards

  1.  Clean50 2020 Award (more here)
  2. TRICO Foundation’s Social EnterPrize
  3. Ingenious Award for Innovation in Technology (more here)
  4. Clean50 2018 Project Award (more here)

Tech and environmental case studies about Kershaw's impact on Furniture Bank:

Contact Information

If you’re a member of the media and would like to talk, please get in touch or send an email to press@furniturebank.org 

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