How Do You Know If You Are Donating Effectively
Everyone has good intentions when they donate, 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 feel its important to share my opinion based on my personal experiences with fundraising and non profits. 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 very big problem with an established charity supporting a cause I care for very deeply ( unfortunately I am not allowed to share the name of this non profit, as my life 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) with a our community outreach. Initially the charity did not seem so interested in our initiative, they wanted money, but somehow I managed to convince them and ensured they would get good press and good results that would make a difference. The results were more than incredible, we received so much support, we didn’t have enough space to keep all the donations that kept pouring in for days. Everyday donations came in from friends, co workers, and word got around and suddenly lots more people joined in, it was overwhelming and wonderful to see. We filled three huge trucks from top to bottom. I had previously ensured a contract and signed a formal agreement with the charity, in return all I was asking for was some photos of the distribution, (to share with the community and social media), and the names of the locations/camps where the donations were being distributed. The contract was signed sealed and delivered.
After a few months I started following up and I never got a call back. I got concerned when I heard rumours the charity was selling donations and worse yet, I received an anonymous call from someone “ inside” saying that some of the donations were still sitting in a storage unit and were never distributed despite having a signed agreement. 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 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 has made me so cautious and skeptical on who and how to still support vulnerable communities that need support. Even though I thought I was protected, you still have to know the organization and its 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.
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. My few months teaching English at Aziza’s Place in Cambodia was life changing and I will forever want to continue raising awareness to their work as they are improving the lives of not just the children in their care but their community as well. Another one doing absolutely amazing work is Baan Dek Foundation in Thailand. Check out their websites or email me for more information if you’r interested in finding out more.
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.
For further information:
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