7 comments on “Giving to Charities- Comment & Response

  1. I have always thought that if you don’t trust cash to end up where it’s most needed, you should not be giving to that organization. I mean, couldn’t they just sell the stuff you donated and take the money?

    • Really good point Alanna. In fact, as a rule NGOs have much stricter financial accountability systems than they do accountability systems for Gifts in Kind (donated goods). Most NGOs in their annual reports will be able to tell you pretty much to the nearest dollar how much was spent where and in what capacity (their boards hold them accountable for this as much as anything). Gifts-in-Kind figures tend to be vaguer, the systems more inaccessible (especially to the public) and ‘goods’ easier to pilfer than cash- which usually remains within tightly controlled banking and financial systems. Talk to any aid logistician about how much gets pilfered from an average warehouse (see WFP in Somalia as a great case-study).

  2. Sue, also never underestimate what giving your non-cash items (food, time, etc) locally can do. Help is needed across the world, sure, but sometimes it can be just as great next door.

    • Thanks Ang for this insightful comment. Absolutely right- there are always needs locally, and very often what you have in your house is far more appropriate for the family up the street than it is for a family in South-East Asia. There is also the environmental cost to consider- by giving locally you not only reduce waste, but the environmental cost of transporting goods a long distance. In any Western society there are immense needs- physical, emotional, psychological, relational- which we can contribute to. Some of the hardest ‘assistance’ work I’ve ever had to do was spending time with homeless people on the streets of Cambridge, UK- where their needs are not so much material (though they do have material needs)- but actually, the time and emotional investment of other caring people. DEFINITELY not always rewarding- but then giving shouldn’t be about the giver.

  3. MoreAltitude, Alanna and Ang, Thank you so much for your great comments and information. I am looking forward to all of the reading that has been suggested above. I still have much to learn about the issues with international aid. As I begin to understand the depth of the issue behind stuff vs. cash and the level of caring of the people involved, there is still one aspect of “giving well” I am trying to understand. On the surface the question can be asked – is there a way for people who are cash poor themselves to help? I am hearing that internationally there really isn’t. What I am hoping for is creativity. There are millions of people who want to help with international relief but just don’t know where they can give with heart. Thank you again – I am off to do some reading!

    • Hi Sue and thanks for your ongoing engagement around this issue. Sorry for the slow reply! Unfortunately my day job keeps interfering with my burgeoning Social Media Habit. Maybe someday I’ll actually get paid to tell people what I think about stuff… 😉

      I guess a couple of things in response to your question that come up.

      1. As Ang (above) has written, giving time (and stuff) locally has huge value and is often far more impactful (and less potentially damaging) than doing so overseas. For a start, these are your neighbours- so they’re people who you actually do understand better and have a better idea how to communicate, help, etc. See J.’s very direct (and occasionally hard-to-hear) comments about the fact that sometimes, well-meaning people don’t really have a big avenue for providing truly valuable assistance overseas. However things like Red Cross drives when there are disasters in your own country, or donating time at a shelter for people living on the streets, or giving clothes to charity stores, are all very appropriate things that will make a tangible difference in the lives of needy people where you are. And, I’d like to point out, that in my experience, the level of need (as measured in the rather intangible sense of true ‘human suffering’) is no less in our western countries than it is on the African continent, for example; the sadness and loss experienced by the homeless people I’ve spent time with may have a different root than refugees in a camp in the Sahel, but in many ways the refugees I’ve spent time with have been far happier.

      2. You’re not actually cash-poor. Not when you compare yourself to, for example, a family in Niger which might earn $5 per day to survive off. Even sparing $50 for a one-off donation once a year, or $10 a month, or whatever sacrifice you feel able to make financially, accounts for something. The physical and financial needs are great, yes, but precisely because those needs are so great, the cliche is true- even a little bit of assistance actually makes a difference down the line. This is, of course, going to be contingent on chosing a good charity to donate through, and that’s where your time commitment comes in- taking time to learn who is working where, what they’re doing, and are they doing it well? Start with Saundra’s blog “Good Intentions” if you’re serious about looking into this.

      3. Realistically, very few agencies which work overseas are going to have ‘useful’ tasks for non-professional aid-workers to contribute to during an emergency response, that are directly related to the field work being done. As J. alludes to in the article linked to above, there’s no room for untrained volunteers in a hospital Emergency Room, and the same is true of international aid agencies during a crisis. That said, it’s worth noting the following:

      a) There ARE tasks which volunteers or non-aid professionals can do which can help tremendously during this time. My organization draws on a pool of volunteers to help with a variety of tasks that are not related to aid work, but to the organizational support. That may include people with backgrounds in administration who can volunteer time helping with office workloads; people who have experience working in call-centres taking donations over the phone; right down to people who just have time, who are willing to do more mundane tasks like opening envelopes or standing on street corners with tins. All these tasks contribute to an NGO’s operations in their efforts to respond, and reduce the costs of that NGO so that more resources are freed up to be sent overseas.

      b) If people really want to give their time to help in a meaningful way overseas, the best way to do this is to actually make a decision to build your life around this sector- like I have, like my friends and colleagues referenced on my blog here all have- i.e. to make it your life’s work. Discounting high-school, I spent nearly 5 years at university training, and have sunk 7 years of professional experience into doing this work, and it’s my contribution. It’s never too late to direct your career into this track, and having a career with an NGO isn’t restricted to people who fly into disaster zones. There’s room for people with all sorts of backgrounds and training- Human Resources, administration, finance, banking, communications, media, marketing, management, and so forth. All these people are essential to keep the organization running.

      4. You’re not alone. There are lots of people out there who feel motivated to give in some way. If you want to invest your time in a creative way, become an advocate. You have friends, contacts, a neighbourhood. This could work in a couple of ways. You could pick an organization you admire, and then work in your own circles to raise funds for that organization. Or, you could pick a particular theme that touches your heart- child trafficking, perhaps, or violence against women. A key here is raising awareness- not just of the issues, but of the solutions. A lot of what this blog (and, to a greater extent, the blogs of my colleagues mentioned here) is about relates to doing aid the right way. You’ve taken the time (for which I applaud you) to discuss, learn, read-up and educate yourself on these issues. So if you want to invest your time in a really valuable way, head out to your friends and neighbours, and help them to understand that in fact aid is not about sending your used clothes to starving children in Africa, but that it is far more complex, nuanced and delicate than that. Encourage them to become educated too, and make them better donors that will both give in a more efficient way, and also hold agencies like ours accountable to doing our job right.

      I hope this gives you some food for thought Sue. Thanks as always for your time.


  4. Pingback: Death Valley Diversion « WanderLust

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