Doubling your donation is not the answer
Updated: Mar 18, 2018
I was disappointed by two articles that recently came out, more or less in response to the Oxfam scandal. One post was an opportunistic, thinly veiled sales pitch by PWC and the other was, in my personal opinion, just plain irresponsible. The overall gist was that the aid system needed restructuring, this was the perfect opportunity to do so, and you should double your donation otherwise “the most vulnerable” would suffer.
Providing aid costs money
The public are naive in believing that it can all be delivered for “free”
Aid porn “sells” more than say talent management system re-design
Abuses are not isolated to Oxfam or the charity sector
There is an opportunity to transform the system
There is an opportunity for International NGOs (INGOs) to restructure to be more efficient and effective
The future of the traditional INGO is precarious and they should start forward planning to adapt
All correct. What wasn't correct though was,
One, i feel that those in a position of power and influence have a moral duty to provide balanced advice. (I know, naive, but i still believe in Father Christmas).
Two, the solutions suggested don’t challenge the model or the system, they simply provide solutions to maintaining the status quo
And three, more importantly, I think it is wrong to use “the most vulnerable” as some kind of negotiating piece in a chess game of fundraising. It is no better than the poverty porn images that fill your screens and social media channels.
If you truly believe in international development / humanitarian aid / charity, and making it better, then unfortunately the answer to the problem is not “double your donation”.
Where the problems come from?
I might be accused of being anti-international NGOs. I’m not. I’m anti poor quality. I’m anti not doing things right whatever the cost. I’m anti blablabla because it sells. There is “fake-it-to-make-it” and there is just fantasy-land BS.
For decades international development charities have enjoyed continuous financial growth. Some are now billion dollar multinationals. Major donors trying to spend out their annual budgets have fallen over themselves to give out fewer, larger grants because they take less effort; large corporate brands have sought to wash away their sins through their corporate social responsibility; and we, the public, have lapped up the simplistic and false narrative that everything is a problem that can be resolved “with just a small donation”. “Fighting poverty” has become the thing of the moment; cool for hipsters, a challenge for tech entrepreneurs and necessary for political credentials.
But unfortunately financial growth and expansion has come at a cost. A cost that we all have contributed to, whether it is by donating without thinking, holding charities to a higher moral standard, or simply believing that we “know” better what “people over there” need and how charities should operate.
The aid and development sector does require a transformation, but it is not by individuals doubling their donation. All this will contribute to is increasing the pile of unrestricted funds international charities have, to use as they require to run their operations. Few will actually use it for sector changing investment projects because they will fear the public backlash if it goes wrong. Particularly now that the wolves will be waiting to attack the slightest error, and i’m not sure the sector could handle another battering.
What can you do?
If we really want to transform the aid and development sector, if we really care enough to change the sector then the answer is: ask more difficult questions and give better. When you next give:
Don’t ask “how much money is going on overheads?” as if you had any idea what its like to operate in that country in those conditions. Rather ask, why does it cost X to run a programme? What does it take to have strong essential systems in place? How difficult is it to get to the communities you work with?
Don’t ask “how many items will that buy for the “poor person”?”. Rather ask, what outcome will be achieved? What changes have your interventions over the last x years achieved? How have you built the capacities of all the stakeholders so the need for you decreases?
Ask: why are you there in the first place? Who are your local partners? Why don’t you promote them in your advertising? Why can’t you help us give directly to them?
Ask: How can you help me broker a partnership with one of your trusted local partners? Why are you best placed to support change?
Unfortunately that puts the onus on you the giver to do your research. But it is right that it is so. Everything else you interact with in this world requires you to research and act upon that information. Why should charity be any different? Take the time to look around, ask questions, challenge your assumptions and most importantly be conscious of your own preconceptions. Just because you “give” doesn’t give you any more “rights”. In fact, it gives you more responsibilities.
People and communities around the world don’t need your pity, channelled through international charities. They need your anger and passion. They need you to listen and understand. They need your voice. They need you to challenge the status quo. They need you to come together and work together, with them to drive through change.
We started FieldWorks because we believe in better “aid”. Who delivers it is not important. How it is provided and what it achieves is. You might think this is an opportunistic post for FieldWorks but it isn’t. Find out about us, support us, don’t support us, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that we, you, as humans, fortunate enough to be where we are and have what we have, make every effort to understand and make the right choice.
Because your donations have a consequence, just like buying cheaply made t-shirts have.
We believe that those who work with the communities they help; those who work in the interests of the community and not the donors; those who understand the issues because they live them; those who achieve true collaboration with communities; these are the ones that should be supported.
If you start doubling anything, double your efforts to understand.
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