The donations that do more harm than goood

Although well intentioned, how often have you given goods to charity on the assumption that anything would be helpful, without a thought to whether the gift would be of genuine use?
Think back a month or so to Christmas- how many gifts did you receive from givers that meant well, but just don’t fit, or don’t work for you? Or gifts that are really about the giver- those that are easy, cheap, make them feel good or are just considered socially the right thing to do?

So often we have seen groups that mean well adopting a one-size-fits-all approach to projects, designing a project so they have something that can be completed by paying volunteers, or implementing the cheapest options so that they can be scaled up. Volunteer groups planting crops in the name of service (for communities whose sole source of income is farming), unskilled teenagers constructing school buildings on ‘service’ trips, computers given to a school without power to charge them … all projects and ideas that have made things worse in the community, regardless of the good intentions.

When looking to support charities or aid programs it’s vital to seek out organisations that:

  • implement programs based on local community need and that strengthen the local development capacity;
  • are committed to long-term, sustainable and quality projects;
  • don’t engage volunteers in roles that can be completed by local people.

If you are considering giving donations or aid, consider what would be the best solution if you were faced with a similar challenge in your own life. And whether they meet the following criteria recommended by USAID:

  • Items are specifically requested by a charitable or local organisation working on-site, and
  • Items are available in sufficient quantity to serve affected populations,
  • Items are easily integrated into existing relief and development programs,
  • Items are monitored for effectiveness.
  • Transportation costs are paid for by the donor
  • The recipient organization has a distribution plan

To which we would add- items cannot to be sourced locally.

One of the best blog’s on this issue is by development veteran Saundra Schimmelpfennig, whose posts are published on the US Agency for International Development website. We’ll leave you with a quote from her:

“One of my best gifts ever was the shortwave radio my sister gave me just before I left for the Peace Corps. I was so attached to it that I kept it with me wherever I went in my house…That radio was my lifeline to the English speaking world for two years. How did my sister know to give it to me? She asked what I needed most.”