How to Donate Effectively
Learning to trust charities again and effective tools on helping your donation make an impact.
Everyone usually has good intentions for donating, and do so for different causes and reasons. As someone who’s been involved with non profit work helping projects in different parts of the world, I felt its important to share my my personal experiences and give some advice. I strongly believe that what’s most important is to know who you are donating to, how they work, how your donation is going to make an impact and ways to track or monitor the effectiveness of your donation (no matter how small or big it may be).
Not so long ago, I had a big problem with an established government charity supporting a cause I care for very deeply ( unfortunately I am not allowed to share the name of this non profit, as I was threatened). Rather than donate money, a close friend and I decided to get pro active and provide tangible goods (winter coats, warm blankets, dry food and medicine) using our own community outreach. Initially the charity did not seem so interested in our initiative, it was clear they were only after cash donations, but somehow I managed to convince them and ensured they would get good press and good results that would make an impact. The results were incredible, we received so much support, we didn’t have enough space to keep all the donations. One very dear friend got his company to donate thousands of rugby long sleeve shirts, that literally filled up an entire warehouse. Where those shirts are sitting today, is the question I’ve been so angrily been meaning to answer for a while and have yet to get a response.
We called the campaign “ Keep them Warm” to help Syrian refugees during the cold winter months. We filled huge trucks from top to bottom (although I had to call several times to get anyone to pick up the donations). I had previously ensured a contract and signed a formal agreement with the GM of this charity, and in n return all I was asking for was some photos of the distribution, (to share with the community), the names of the locations/camps where the donations were being distributed and when. The contract was signed sealed and delivered.
After several months I started following up and I never got a call back. I got concerned when I heard rumors this particular “charity” was selling donations . Then I received an anonymous call from someone “ inside” saying that most of my donations were still sitting in a storage unit and were never distributed. Eventually I was threatened over the phone despite my many efforts to find out the truth and open an investigation. I can’t express my shock and shame at not being able to fulfill my commitment specially to those that so greatly participated and came together to help such a potentially good cause. It broke my heart my trust and my hope in charities in general. It has made me so cautious and skeptical on who and how to still support vulnerable communities that need our support. Even though I thought I was protected with a contract, one still has to consider the sensitivities of outside governments, and their way of working if you truly want to know how you are helping.
If your goal is to make an impact I want to remind you that its not about how much you donate because a little can go a long way if its going to right organization. Get yourself involved as much as possible. After this experience I did plenty of research and found some tips on how to prevent this kind of thing from happening again.
Here are some general tips on effective donating:
Research, ask the necessary questions, you can check an organization’s profile on Charity Navigator and see how much it spends on overhead costs versus program expenses and understand the effectiveness of its work. Overhead costs don’t necessarily mean its bad ( view this Ted Talk), Dan Pallotta says: Let’s change the way we think about changing the world.
If a non profit or charity seem reluctant or indifferent to your interest and involvement, its best to stay clear away. If they need or want your help they will employ methods to ensure they are executing their work correctly and transparently.
We are all moved by stories, unfortunately check the facts — it doesn’t mean they are all true (for example, Somaly Mam Foundation).
Look for proven effectiveness. The best evidence is to look at controlled analysis ( ethical monitoring performance) that demonstrate significant impact. This is key. No matter how small or big the non profit or charity.
If your working with a small non profit, find out what their specific needs are. Help raise money for those specific needs, get your friends, your kids and community involved. Also smaller charities may be in more need of your time or skills than just money. In fact I find that donating your time, and volunteering is the most rewarding way to give back. I taught English and volunteered in Cambodia and I have information on quality ngo’s there that are doing really impressive work, if you need information feel free to contact me.
The bigger charities are more prone to bureaucracy, pension obligations, marketing/admin costs and salaries. But scale can still be a major advantage in terms of the impact the charity can have.
In conclusion, no matter what your reasons are for donating or to who, be smart about your choice because you have the necessary tools to track the effectiveness of where and how your donation is being used.
My friend Nicola Crosta wrote an amazing piece on “ strategic giving”
In a nutshell, philanthropy is growing fast — in virtually every country — and it has the potential to become a significant force of change and development. Such potential can only be realized if donors keep improving not only in terms of how much they give, but also how they give. This is what the move towards strategic grants is all about.
Have a read here.
For further information:
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