My Path in Finding The Best Place to Donate to
I Don’t Trust Big Organizations
When I was a child I have always wanted to help others. Watching the Christian Children’s Fund commercials where they ask you to just donate a few dollars a day and how it can make a huge difference in a child, but as a kid I had no means of being able to give a few dollars a day. As I got older I began to look at large organizations in a sort of skewed light. My Mother donated to the World Wildlife Fund in my name each year and I received a packet with return address labels, a letter thanking me for the donation, some postcards and other goodies. I don’t know at what point I became jaded by large organizations and giving to them, but I do remember getting frustrated at how larger organizations are ran. There are CEOs and other executives that take very large salaries. People that run entire marketing departments that receive salaries for the work they do. The organizations make a lot of money, not by selling products or a service that people can use, but by asking people to just give them the money. So then where does that money go, or what do they do to help when people are taking salaries for the work they do?
According to an article on LovetoKnow.com titled What Percentage of Donations Go to Charity:
Some nonprofits may have quite a bit of overhead, but according to the charity ratings site, if they are spending more than 33.3% of their total budget on overhead, the organization is simply not meeting its mission.
Which helps me when I look at charities that my friends ask me about when donating. I still have issues with larger organizations, in fact the World Wildlife Federation that my Mother donated in my name to is cited as one of the top charities with loads of overhead.
Reader’s Digest posted a great article citing the heavy hitters of organizations including Cancer Fund of America (including it’s affiliates Cancer Support Services, the Breast Cancer Society, and Children’s Cancer Fund of America) and the Red Cross. The Cancer Fund of America had undergone investigation by the FTC due to it’s mismanagement of funds.
What happened to the other 97 percent of the donations? According to the FTC, much of the money was spent on the charity’s staff—principally the founder, James T. Reynolds Sr., and his extended family and friends. A trip to Disney World (with a paid babysitter in tow). A trip to Vegas. College tuition for several employees. Ten cars. Dues for a dating website. A luxury cruise. Apart from the perks, more than twice the amount that was spent on children with cancer went to pay the salaries of Reynolds’s children, in-laws, fellow churchgoers, and friends, who were hired without regard to their qualifications, says the FTC. Reynolds’s son, for example, received nearly $371,000 in 2010 as CEO of the spin-off group Breast Cancer Services.
I know all too well the story of the Red Cross and it’s issues over the earthquake relief in Haiti. The organization has been under close scrutiny over the mismanagement of funds and it’s funneling through other organizations.
Much of the group’s spending on shelter in Haiti was on projects carried out by distributing funds to nearly 50 partner aid groups (including Habitat for Humanity and Save the Children), each of which took a cut for administrative costs. As ProPublica and NPR reported, in one case, the American Red Cross forwarded $6 million to the International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC) to subsidize rent for people who had been living in tents. IFRC took out 26 percent for “administration,” and on top of that, the American Red Cross took its standard 9 percent for “program management.” In another case, the American Red Cross took a full 24 percent for costs incurred while managing another group’s efforts.
I personally worked with individuals that had gone to Haiti just after the earthquake and saw a lot of volunteers but nothing being done for the families that were affected by the quake. One, two and three years later and nothing had been done. Six years later and there are still reports of the country not being helped. This article in Time Magazine titled Haiti Earthquake: Five Years After was released in January of 2015:
Given the costs of recovery from such a shattering catastrophe, it might seem logical that an impoverished country such as Haiti would still feel the effects a half-decade later, if it weren’t for the unprecedented help the Republic received in its aftermath. “When you look at the history of humanitarian relief, there’s never been a situation when such a small country has been the target of such a massive influx of money and assistance in such a short span of time,” says Turine. “On paper, with that much money in a territory the size of Haiti, we should have witnessed miracles; there should have been results.”
More recently I have found an article from the Australian ABC news titled Haiti earthquake victims still homeless, struggling to rebuild six years after disaster that covers the same issues that the Tome article did just a year before. My suspicions and anxious feelings over large NGOs have proven to be sadly true as I get older and witness, first hand, how organizations work.
Smaller Organizations Aren’t Necessarily Better
Because of my concerns with large NGOs I have found myself sticking closer with the smaller non-profits that I can really get in and work with. I have now personally worked with 5 different organizations in the past several years. While in the past I had simply donated money where I thought it would be put to good use, I recently (the last 6 years) started actually putting my money where I could see that is was going to be used to benefit others. This included a small organization providing birthdays to children in safe houses or foster homes as well as a larger organization that provides schools to communities in developing countries. I have not only donated my own money, but encouraged my friends and people connected with me on social media to donate as well. I then worked closely with those organizations to see first hand that the money is going to the people that need it.
My latest venture has found me working with a few organizations that have teamed up for various projects. I’m not going to name them to protect the innocent as they have done some good, but feel I should voice what I have witnessed even in smaller non-profits that are working very diligently to make a difference. While I see the money that is donated actually going to the people and really helping, I sadly see a series of mismanagement, miscommunication and people that are involved for the wrong reasons. It’s because of this that projects are being completed not to their fullest potential and without any real follow through. Communication among the people involved is extremely lacking, and it appears that most of those that get involved are doing it more to serve their personal egos than to actually work to make a difference.
As a result of this lack of organization, communication and attention to the people that they are helping the organizations are doing more harm than good.
Doing More Harm Than Good
People want to help, and a flood of those people have come to Nepal themselves as well as with their money. The people of Nepal are now becoming reliant on the money from Westerners. The villages and the people in them that I see closest to the city have developed a way to work the white people that visit. There are a few tourist stops that are very popular around Pokhara, and each time I visit I am inundated with children asking me “How are you?” followed buy “Chocolate?” and then “Money?”. I had a young woman follow me for a few steps starting a conversation and then said “Please mam, I need to do my school work and can not.” She then proceeded to tell me that she needed a calculator. I followed with “You know long division? You can do it.” It’s not that I don’t want to help, and can’t help. That girl, the children and adults of the village, all know just as much as I do how easy it is for me to just buy her a calculator, and how little of an impact it has on my finances. But, what does that do for her? She may, or may not, buy the calculator and use it. Realistically she will most likely use the money to go buy some chocolate herself and doesn’t ever buy the calculator.
I watched as a close friend of mine fall in love with a family in a school that she was volunteering at for some time. When we were invited to their home for a meal the Mother told us (through a translator) of a woman that had visited several years ago and began sending the children to boarding school. She paid for uniforms, supplies and the school fees. She said this went on for several years until the money stopped. She feels that the man who was collecting the money for her has been keeping it for himself. I believe that the Westerner that helped her got back to her life and after some time forgot about the family and simply stopped sending money. Sadly, the family had come to rely on the money, so much so that they were asking my friend for help as well.
There has got to be a balance when donating money and supplying the people of these countries with what they need without teaching them to rely on those donations.
There is a great resource on the BBC website that has arguments against charity. In it it discusses the ramifications on a society when money is given rather than the effort it takes to really teach people to be self sustainable.
It is more socially injurious for the millionaire to spend his surplus wealth in charity than in luxury. For by spending it on luxury, he chiefly injures himself and his immediate circle, but by spending it in charity he inflicts a graver injury upon society.
For every act of charity, applied to heal suffering arising from defective arrangements of society, serves to weaken the personal springs of social reform, alike by the ‘miraculous’ relief it brings to the individual ‘case’ that is relieved, and by the softening influence it exercises on the hearts and heads of those who witness it.
It substitutes the idea and the desire of individual reform for those of social reform, and so weakens the capacity for collective self-help in society.
J A Hobson, Work and Wealth, 1914
A woman by the name of Barbara Weibel found herself in the same state I have been in back in 2007. She has traveled the world looking for purpose as well. She wrote a great piece on her blog that talks about the Voluntouring and Volunteering Scams throughout Nepal. In it she talks about people volunteering for charities with no real organization involved. No training or orientation for people coming to volunteer and teach English in the schools (which I too have personally witnessed). She talks about the fake orphanages, misappropriating funds, and the selling of donated goods that I too have unfortunately witnessed.
It’s because of this I wish to help where I can but maintain that balance that keeps the people from relying on the donations provided. I have also gotten frustrated with the organizations I work with in their lack of organization, communication and the people involved doing it all for the wrong reasons. All leading me to start working on my own and therefore forcing me to start a charity that abides by the few principles I have come to learn are important.
- To find the people that need help that are not asking for it.
- Ensure that those getting help are asking for the right reasons.
- Ensure that what those that are getting help are asking for is needed and the most important necessity for them or the community.
- Diligent communication with each donor either personally, or by other means, will be completed to reassure each contributor that the money they donated went to the cause intended (or at least put to good use).
- To follow up continually, after donations have been made, to ensure that donated items were kept, donations were put to proper use, and individuals receiving aid are following through with expectations.
- Donations will be spread out in a way that the people receiving them will not come to rely on them.
- Any education or aid that requires a long term solution, such as education, will be seen through thoroughly so that those who come to rely on it are seen to the end (given they continue to meet the requirements to receive the aid).
- Those that receive aid will be expected to put in a required minimum amount of effort when and where they can.
- Funds donated will go to the people in need, and will never exceed a 20% overhead in costs of operations.
- An expectation of those volunteering and providing aid will be that of genuine desire to help others.
- All efforts and general management will be ran with the efficiency and professionalism I have come to expect while in the corporate world.
- Lastly, to ensure that, over time, we have made a positive impact no matter how difficult or time consuming it may be.