Recently I heard about a large international aid organization that was investigated by the US government for inappropriately using relief aid funds. This is never encouraging news for donors. Most of us care about the world’s problems, whether it is poverty in the horn of Africa or homeless people in our cities here in the west. We want to give, but we don’t have deep pockets and we don’t want our money wasted and worse yet we don’t want our funds misappropriated. When people hear about these kind of scandals they tend to stop giving.
I think It would be a mistake to give nothing. It would also be a mistake to give without any thought about how your funds will be invested. Legally, at least here in Canada, once you give you no longer have any control over your gift. Charities have the authority to use funds as they see fit as long as they are still carrying out their charitable activities. Of course, for most organizations it would be organizational suicide to not honour the wishes of the donor whenever possible. And when it is not possible to use the funds in the way the donor wishes the charity should refuse the gift or ask the donor to approve an alternative use for the funds.
But where the donor has control and responsibility is before they give the gift. So before you give, how do you decide where to send your money?
In our home we sponsor a child through World Vision because it is a well known organization with a reasonably good reputation and track record. They are also large enough to have the capacity to take on big projects. But we also sponsor a teacher in Uganda through Watoto Childcare. In the case of Watoto, we chose it because we knew our giving would make more of an impact in a mid-sized organization with well run projects. Another factor was that we are friends with one of the board members of that charity. This highlights relationship in our giving decision. We knew somebody who was involved in the oversight of this charity. We also have on occasion given funds through my organization for a couple of our overseas projects. We knew the people. 🙂
So here’s my list of what I look for when I’m thinking to give.
Relationship and trust. Is somebody I know involved in the project or in the running of the charity?
Transparency. This is an extremely important factor. If a charity is reluctant to share financial information I would look elsewhere to invest. I don’t mind so much when charities make mistakes. Doing good in the world and working with people is fraught with the possibility for error. But what really impresses me is when people are transparent.
Proximity and local knowledge. This is another important factor. Does the charity already have a presence in the area and do they have an understanding of local culture? Whenever possible I think it is good to favor organizations that have staff already in the area. I also think that it is these contexts our small gifts have the most impact. Over the years in my work I’ve seen relatively small amounts of money have enormous impact. Locally based people we knew and trusted were able to provide aid and development where it could most strategically and cost effectively delivered.
Competency is also important. People need to have the training or the capacity to learn quickly. Good intentions are not helpful if you do not have the capacity to help and worse yet if you get in the way of others trying to deliver aid. But if they are willing to learn and if they do learn than they are worthy of your financial partnership.
Finally, I think innovation and vision is important. By innovation I don’t mean is the charity is using the latest gadgets and software. Rather is the leadership and the staff running the program gripped with vision and are they learners? Are they dreamers? Are they thinking up new solutions to old problems? Are they attempting the impossible? Are they growing? Are they inspiring? If so, I think they are worthy of your support.
Give, but give wisely.