Two articles published last week - one in the Global Post and one in the New York Times - presented conflicting messages on the effects of aid money in the developing world. New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof fielded readers’ questions about charitable giving. The questions were answered by Melinda Gates and Kristof himself, two bleeding hearts for human rights and advocates of helping the less fortunate. The Global Post story, on the other hand, illustrates the inadequacies of aid organizations collecting donor money and the economic havoc created by international aid in post-earthquake Haiti.
Money is tight for most us and we certainly don't want to fill the coffers of NGOs and non-profits who might be taking a cut to pay for cushy headquarters, Toyota Land Cruisers and fundraising bonuses. So how can we make sure our generosity benefits the right causes and the people most affected by disasters and poverty? Ben Smilowitz, director of the Disaster Accountability Project has a few tips on how to donate with more discrimination.
“Thousands of organizations are telling you that they’re the best group to give to,” said Smilowitz. “In reality, only a small percentage of those groups are actually positioned to deliver.”
He authored a report a year after the Haiti earthquake that surveys how the 196 organizations that solicited donations spent their money. There are several measurable qualities that we should look for in an organization before we write that ten dollar check for earthquake relief.
Smilowitz acknowledges that it is difficult for concerned citizens to do all this research in the wake of a disaster when the knee jerk reaction is to text a donation with your mobile device to help people in desperate need of food and medicine. But he advises that donors should take a moment to think about who they’re donating to.
“Even if it’s your favorite organization, you don’t know if they’re actually on the ground,” said Smilowitz. “If you want to give to the group’s general fund, then go for it. But if you want to make sure that money gets on the ground and saves lives within the first week then you need to wait until you know what you’re doing.”