Here is an excerpt from an email I received this morning. I thought I’d share my response in the hope that it would help others as well
“… told me to ask you if you knew of a good NGO to donate relief money for Haiti. Do you have any suggestions?
Thanks for your confidence! As you already know, Mama Afrika doesn’t have any connections personally in Haiti. We hope one day to be able to trade with and assist women in the African Diaspora such as Haiti; but that is a future endeavor. Let’s talk about today.
As is always the case, when major disasters strike like the horrible 7.0 earthquake that hit the island nation of Haiti, it seems that every organization sounds the battle cry and asks for donations. Don’t get me wrong, this is important and necessary in order to get help to those who need it! But, as someone who has worked in the non-profit sector for years before starting Mama Afrika, I feel compelled to warn people of one thing: Big names don’t mean honesty.
It would be my greatest pleasure to tell you that all of the largest non-profit organizations such as the Red Cross had their “clients” at heart when they made decisions. It is sadly, often not the case though. So, please be wary when choosing who to donate to.
I highly recommend that when donating to organizations you look before you leap. Here is a great website which can assist you with that: http://tinyurl.com/yeu83s2 . They and some other organizations like them, rate large non-profits based on their responsible usage of donations. (My personal opinion is that I wouldn’t donate to anyone with less than a 4-star rating. Financial responsibility counts!) We all want our donations’ recipients to be those on the ground, not some well-paid member of management in Washington DC, or New York, right?
We all know about the outrage after so much money was raised by the Red Cross who led people to believe that their donations would be used to help victims and their families after the terrorist bombings on September 11th or hurricane Katrina. History showed us though that there was deception at the very least and outright fraud in the worst case. We’ve also all heard horrible stories of how monies collected for victims of tsunamis, floods, wars, famines, etc. is filtered off by employees or wasted in other ways.
Even the United Nations hasn’t had clean hands in the past. Those of us working with and in Africa know about the disgusting wide-spread scandals where UN humanitarian workers required young girls come to pick up their families food rations so that they could sexually abuse them before handing out their rations.
The world of humanitarian organizations is full of such tales. And although I would love to only focus on the good that they do; it is important that we as donors are responsible to those we are trying to help.
These abuses, both financial and human are the reason that I left the non-profit sector. The large, corporate mentality where people jockey to move up the corporate ladder at all costs was just not for me. I’m called to help the poorest in the world; not to earn a 6-figure salary and treat my job like I would treat any other job in any other industry.
I recommend asking yourself the following questions before donating:
1. Does this organization already do work “on the ground” in the country where the disaster occurred? This will tell you how well networked they are, what kind of contacts and relationships they have on the ground and how your money will be used if they meet their financial need where the specific relief project is concerned. In this case, for example, if the organization raises 2 million dollars more than it needs to provide emergency relief for Haiti; will it be able to use the money leftover in Haiti, or will it go to a general fund for disasters elsewhere… or even worse, to pay for raises for its employees in the US?
2. If the organization already works in Haiti (in this case), what is their “regular work”? Is that something you would fund otherwise? Are they usually in the adoption field and simply fund their orphanages with money they usually raise? Or, do they usually empower the poor through sustainable living projects like fair trade?
3. Do they have clearly defined goals or are they just saying “Help us”? This should give you some idea of how well they are able to meet the needs on the ground.
Sometimes, if you don’t feel completely confident giving during a particular disaster because you see that there is a large outpouring of assistance (relative to the size of the disaster, naturally); you might be just as well to wait.
I know that this is an unorthodox comment and that many will not appreciate it because we are all flooded by the emotions that naturally come with this magnitude of disaster. The photos pull us in and the stories are so heart-wrenching. But, intelligent giving is important. You might want to give to another region of the world, give your time to help in your own community or plan a fund-raising campaign for a cause that is important to you. That is OK too. Giving is what matters: giving of your time, your energy, your prayers and your resources.
Haiti is one of the few places on earth that has it so much harder than even many places in Africa. They might be the oldest Black democracy in the Western Hemisphere; but they haven’t reaped the benefits one might expect from it. Sabotage from the US from their earliest history as well as corruption within Haiti in more recent times has made it one of the most ill prepared places to deal with this tragedy.
You will, therefore have a chance to wait a few months until the dust has settled to find out who was responsible with their donations, what new projects are emerging due to the increased focus on the country and which of those new (or older) projects you want to fund.
I honestly cringe each time I think about the potential that times like this have to cause people to get burned and decide not to give again later. I know how much harder it makes it for those of us who have honestly and sincerely dedicated ourselves to the poor, even when the lights aren’t shining and the news cameras aren’t around.
I just ask that we all take the time to reflect on what our money will really be used for on the ground… instead of giving only to regret it when we hear in 6 months or a year that the money was used in a way we wouldn’t approve of. Again, I would begin by digging deeper and investigating what organizations are translating your dollars to good works, which are going to remain on the ground to help after the immediate emergency situation is helped and which are doing the most to include ordinary Haitians in the process as opposed to sending employees in. I’ve found two through the site I gave you which are listed as 4-star with financial accountability and I’ve noticed that they have long histories in Haiti, employ Haitians for the clean-up (providing at least temporary employment) and have long-term sustainable development programs. I, personally, would donate to either gladly—and have. You can learn more at: http://www.foodforthepoor.org or http://www.hopeforhaiti.com
And, of course, in a few months when the world is calm again: remember those in the world who most need your help and support those who are trying to assist them in living better lives.