And what about cases where it seems donations do not reach their intended recipients – is it worth donating at all? The fact is there is no right or wrong answer. It’s a touchy subject, for which there are many differing opinions. And there are many scenarios in which the question of donations can come up. Before you decide to give, and by what means, consider what those who frequently deal with this subject have to say, and what they suggest.
Travelers are perhaps among those most often faced with the subject of donations, especially those who visit countries of a significantly lower income. Who hasn’t been on a vacation somewhere and been approached by a child on the street seeking a handout? Is it a good idea to just toss a few coins into his cup? Some people firmly believe that this practice only lends to the cycle of begging, and can actually harm the child in the long run. Daniela Ruby Papi from Pepyride, an organization that helps the underprivileged people of Cambodia, feels that while it’s important to give, you should never give directly to a begging child. As she puts it:
“Giving money to begging children keeps them on the street. It is hard to remember that when a child is looking up at you, but if you don’t then it then becomes more profitable for that kid to be on the street than in school.”
There is also the question of whether or not to bring donations with you when making the journey to an impoverished country. When disasters occur, it’s human nature to want to help. Volunteers from all over the world prepare to donate their time, efforts and anything else they feel would help to those who are in need. But determining what is best to bring can be challenging. Is money best? Or would supplies be better utilized for immediate need? It is suggested by some that volunteers wait until they arrive on site to determine exactly what is needed, rather than bring items from home. As for monetary donations, Randy LeGrant of GeoVisions advises against it, stating:
“In general, we advise our volunteers to not make any contribution financially. Most times the funds do not get to where they will do the most good. After all, that is why you are there working, right?”
The same can be said for volunteers seeking to assist with the underprivileged in countries that may not have faced a recent disaster, but are generally impoverished and in need of basic goods, such as food, clothing and medical supplies. The general consensus seems to be that it depends on the location that is to receive the assistance. Kimberly Haley-Coleman of GlobeAware, an organization that leads volunteer trips to third world countries, suggests the following:
“Where volunteers do want to donate I try to, whenever possible, ask our local coordinator or other members of the local community to decide for themselves what would be useful. In other words, the answer to what is best is best answered by the people in the community.”
She goes on to point out that “the greatest aid to country regarding donations is usually to buy the items upon arrival, further stimulating the local economy.”
So what about people who want to help out but can’t travel to do so? The question of what to send becomes even more significant because there is no way to really know if what you are donating is being used for the right purpose, since you are not there to witness it. Sending supplies can be helpful, but keep in mind that it’s not always practical. Kimberly Haley-Coleman says she gets requests all the time from people wanting to donate large items like computers. The problem with this is that the cost of shipping to the recipient is often more expensive than the underlying value of the item.
People who are interested in making cash donations should do so with caution, to ensure that the money being sent is actually getting to those who truly need it. Some people advise against monetary donations, while others feel that it is the most effective means of giving. It ultimately depends on the country and circumstances. Take, for example, the 2004 tsunami that struck Indonesia. Sarah Van Auken of Volunteer Global points out that:
“Individuals with very good intentions sent supplies that were never delivered to the victims, and in fact created more trouble amidst the chaos for the aid workers on the ground. In cases like these, where there's an urgent need for assistance, monetary donations always are the best route.”
Sarah Graham of African Impact suggests that if you do choose to go this route and send money you should do so “via a responsible, registered organization to ensure that your donation is making the right difference.”
Christy McCarthy at Footprints Network who works on the donation receiving end adds:
"We use donations made by thousands of people buying online, to fund community development projects that are clearly outlined for those donating. They know what they're donating to, what the outcome is. That level of transparency is important for anyone donating."
Determining the best course of action can be accomplished by following three simple tips, according to Jeff Greenwald, Ethical Traveler’s Executive Director:
There are many options available to those who feel compelled to give to those less fortunate, be it through money, supplies, food or volunteering their time. One way is not necessarily better than another. Determining which method is best is ultimately a personal decision; a decision that should be reached carefully and only after fully understanding the situation at hand. So should you donate? And if so, how should you do it?
Perhaps Kimberly Haley-Coleman put it best when she said:
“Somewhere in between is what most volunteers do. There's no one right, easy answer, clearly, since each situation varies so greatly.”
Do you have any advice for making a donation? Leave us your tips.
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