11 March 2011

Be CAREful When Donating

CARE is back at it with this very nice site which allows you to pack "CARE package" full of goodies that will help people all around the world.  When you drag the item into the box you are given the option of how much you want to spend on each item.  As you can see, I have placed four items into my CARE package at $5 each and joined the CARE action network for free!

But wait a minute, what is that small print at the bottom?  The site looks simple enough, why do they need to have a frequently ask questions page?  I just choose what I want to support, drag it into the box, select an amount and then enter my credit card information for an easy donation.  Well my interest is piqued.  Let's take a look:

To quote Bill and Ted, "Woah!" You mean to tell me that it does not matter what I choose?  The CARE package is just a plain donation to CARE?  What about the school uniforms that I wanted to buy?

To be a bit more serious, this appears to be a slightly dishonest ruse.  CARE does clearly explain that the money will be used as it is needed and that the CARE package is 'symbolic.'  To that extent it is fair.  However, I would be interested in knowing how many people click into the FAQ.  This site seems to play on the desire to pick specific uses for our donated money.  It allows the donor to choose amongst a few options so it feels like specific programs are being supported.  If this connection/desire did not exist, this website would be a waste since individuals can just make a simple donation without having to load a flash page.

One might say that it is educational, but that seems to be a dubious point as the options are about as general as possible.  Is it fair to market to donors like this?  I would argue that it is not.  Fortunately, when I was sent this webpage I was told to check the FAQ.  At this point, I make the assumption that any scheme that allows donors to "choose" what they are donating is just a front for pooling money and making me feel more closely connected to what I am doing.

It is likely that donor fatigue requires more creative ways of reaching people, but dishonesty in any way can lead to clouded donor expectations.  As I have argued before, a better job of communicating to donors must be done in order to encourage more effective giving/philanthropy.  This is an example of making it worse.  

I believe that NGOs have the right to assert that they know what they are doing.  They should make the case that they are successful with their programs by showing real evidence and donors should support effective aid and development programs.  Sadly, the current state relies on deception and emotion manipulation.  Making someone feel good or trendy (I'm looking at you TOMS) through trickery is wrong.  Simple as that.

*Special hat tip and thanks to Penelope and Cynan for bringing this to my attention.

UPDATE 17:13 EST: People commenting here and other places have noted that CARE is certainly not the only one guilty of this widespread practice.  So, I want to explicitly say that I am picking on CARE (for what I believe is good reason), but they are only one of a few organizations who use this donation generation tactic.  Those that do (I am looking at you Oxfam and Kiva), are in the same boat.