07 July 2010

Donors as Investors

When the IPad came out a few months ago many people rushed to pre-order the groundbreaking device. It is safe to assume that the majority of these people were already Apple users. They were the people who had a MacBook and an IPhone. In other words, they were users of Apple products and had a familiarity with what Apple had provided in the past. The more deliberate waited for reviews to come out. As the feedback returned and some playing around took place at the Apple stores, those who waited decided to buy an IPad for themselves.

This is the way that we act as consumers. We buy things based on recommendations or past experiences. If we know little, we ask friends and look to sites like Amazon where the company and users provide ratings and reviews. With technology and cars, we go for a test drive to make sure that it works the way we want and there are no problems.

Why is it that we are deliberate when considering how to spend our money, but not when we donate it? A person stands on the side of the street and asks for money for an INGO, or a brochure shows up one day with a child who is in need of your help. Do you ask around if anybody knows the organization? Look online to find out what they do and their history? Do you know where your money is really going?

Let’s look at this another way. If you wanted to buy a new TV from a Craig’s List ad, would you send your money first before seeing what the TV looks like and if the person is trustworthy? I would bet most people would ask for pictures, proof the television works, and to purchase it face to face so as not to be swindled?

So why do that when making a donation? Just like not every seller on Craig’s List and eBay is trustworthy, not every non-for-profit is effective, doing what it says it does, and/or provides a service which is beneficial to the people it is serving.

One example of this problem is Playpump. While not a bad form of development, it has proven to be more problematic that helpful. PBS Frontline (http://to.pbs.org/9368Ws) has taken a look at the PlayPumps which were a resounding success when introduced three years ago.  What was thought to be a great program has turned out to be one which barely works due to lack of upkeep and the fact that it is generally used by elderly women, not children. Worth noting, is the fact that a blogger working in Malawi identified the problems the NPR piece is only now addressing, last August (http://bit.ly/12Eiz5).  All the while, PlayPump was able to raise money for a program that caused more harm than good.  This past May, the Case Foundation has acknowledged the shortcomings of Playpumps this past May (http://bit.ly/cPt2s6) and have shifted their support for them.

There are certainly times to take chances on innovative ideas and initiatives in every sector, but prudence and research are absolutely necessary. A donation should be thought of as an investment in a company. Instead of a financial return, the donor should expect a positive return that is based on what the intended recipient gets. What is at stake is not just money, but the livelihoods of people around the world. Make smart decisions when it comes time to donate your money. Do the research and follow up on where your money is going and how it will be put to benefit the recipients.