Wednesday, January 05, 2005

People Need To Let Go Of Their Money Once They Decide To Do Good

This story below from the New York Times is a logical codicil to Listmaker's comment on yesterday's post in that the determination by a donor that he or she knows better than the non-profit professional where need is greatest and how money should be spent is a reflection of the need to feel control over ones surroundings as the world seems to spiral into chaos.

Here's the story:

Contributions: Giving for a Cause, and That Cause Only:

"Amid the rush of generous donations to the disaster relief effort in southern Asia, more donors have insisted that their gifts go exclusively to help those victims, charities say, building on a trend seen after the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

"People are very emotional, and they want their money to help the people that they see in pictures and on TV," said Thomas Tighe, president and chief executive of Direct Relief International, which distributes free medicine, supplies and equipment in an effort to improve health care around the world. "They make it clear that this is not about tragedies that exist elsewhere in the world, and they're very skeptical about how charities use their money.".....

...Last Wednesday, Doctors Without Borders posted a message on its Web site telling donors that it had collected as much as it would need to play its role in this disaster and inviting them to donate to its efforts in other places, including Sudan and Iraq. The organization collected more than $50 million to aid victims of the tsunami, and it was one of the first groups to express concern that the torrent of money flowing to southern Asia threatened to divert money from other needy locales.

The American Friends Service Committee's Web site initially offered donors the option of contributing to its general fund or a crisis fund that it maintains to respond to emergencies. Once the organization had decided it was going to respond to this disaster, it added a checked box beside a line at the top of its online donation page saying, 'I know that my contribution to the AFSC Crisis Fund will be used to help the survivors of the earthquake and tsunami in Asia.' Donors who do not want to contribute to that crisis must opt out.

Private charities report that a vast majority of donors for disaster relief fulfill their promises to deliver money - unlike governments, apparently. While the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has applauded the more than $2 billion pledged by governments to date, it has also pointedly noted that experience suggests that some of those commitments will not be fully honored."

On the one hand the money is pretty much guaranteed to come in if privately raised. On the other (and I speak from experience from the non-profit field) restricted grants often lead to greater bureaucratic cost and increased paperwork (due to having to report to donors that every cent went to the narrowband area of interest they decided to fund) than unrestricted money which moves naturally to the areas of greatest need. I suppose I shouldn't grumble: I get paid to deal with that paperwork and reporting so the more individuals and foundations add restrictions to their donations, the more work I'll have. Its just a pity that the money folks like me at larger NGOS get paid to handle the forms-in-triplicate isn't going to feed and clothe people, eh?

Still, if donors want to play God and decide which region of the world gets to live or die, I suppose that is just another reflection of the "moral values" the lumpen mass of the electorate hold so dear. I suppose that attitude is a logical facet of having "a personal relationship with Jesus" (although I recommend you do a google search and see how Jerry Falwell's church and other conservative Christian groups with global reach are reacting to the tsunami).

There also is something very Victorian about it. The idea that stern and disapproving donors out there are watching my non-profit peers and me like hawks to ensure that not one penny given to help the poor of the parish go to either the poor of the next parish nor to the charity workers to ensure they don't wind up as the poor of the parish is quite Dickensian. Perhaps next they can stipulate that with every food pack, or blanket, or prefab home an NGO delivers there must be an improving text and a polemic about the evils of masturbation included.

To quote "Sir" Bob Geldof, organizer of the 1985 transatlantic Live Aid concert:
"People are dying. Just give us the fookin' money"

By the way, blogger's spell check queries "Falwell" with "Valueless"


Anonymous said...

Good stuff weasel as usual. Get us thinking and more importantly feeling - maybe we'll eventually get up off our duffs and do something about it. Interesting side note - it has recently been reported that Iraqi casualities have surpassed 100,000. Where is the aid to help those people?

jamie said...

it is a very interesting phenomenon. not to pat myself on the back, but i noticed that Doctors Without Borders had included a check box on their donations page last week that said something to the effect of "i want my contribution to go directly to the catastrophe in South Asia" or some such. but while that tragedy was the impetus for my gift, i didn't check the box because i know that they do good work elsewhere in the world too and if they decided that is where the moeny would be better used, then i have no problem with that.

weasel said...

Jamie, I agree with you about Doctors Without Borders (even though they seem to be the inspiration for Angelina Jolie's horrible NGO film of last year) and I thought you did a brilliant job advocating for them on Fighting Words. I think the same came be said for both Oxfam and the Red Cross (and indeed for 90% of the large NGOs- nobody gets into the non profit racket to get rich).

I don't think you are grabbing glory for yourself by the way. its an interesting phenomena among sensitive, sentinent people- when urging others to do good one feels a need to play down one's own alturism or supply caveats. I think its an admirable trait.

Listmaker said...


hey, where is the u.s. aid to the victims in iraq? we spend 150 million dollars day on those fuckers! what else can we possibly do?

Anonymous said...

Listmaker; so nice to read someone refer to the 'collateral damage' of our government's policy as 'fuckers'...

What I was trying to say was that it is interesting to see this vast (and worthwhile) humanitarian outpouring for the victims of the tsunami from private citizens and contrast it with the almost complete absence of private relief donations for the victims of our tax dollars at work (as you so graciously pointed out, like George Bush says 'its your money') even from those opposed to adminstration policy.

The government money spent everyday in reconstruction in Iraq (much of which finds its way back into the pockets of Bush supporting businesses) is literally the least we can do considering we smashed the place up. What I was commenting on was the moral vacuum (even among progressives) that allows outreach around natural disasters and yet looks the other way at our own optional acts of destruction.