Saturday, May 13, 2006

Mesh: The road to hell is paved with good intentions

One of my favorite quotes of all time and very applicable to what the rise of blogging has done to philanthropy. These Mesh posts make me sound like a curmodgeon and I do admit that I like playing the role of Devil's Advocate but the amount of Bad Philanthropy that is occuring in large part because of the Web really pisses me off.

Isn't Bad Philanthropy an Oxymoron?
How could any generous act be bad? That's a question I get a lot when talking about Bad Philanthropy. Prime examples of good intentions causing more harm than good is what happens with most disaster relief campaigns. People LOVE to ship clothes to other countries. The problem? The cost of shipping the clothes is often more expensive than the value of the clothes. Worse more? By shipping clothes from a donor country, it limits or eliminates the recipient country of the ability to have local merchants sell clothes to their own people, which would be far better for economic recovery and sustainability.

This example is often used because its one of the easiest to convey when trying to talk about a complex issue. Another great example is Volunteer Tourism. In fact, volunteer tourism mixed with blogs and UGC mixed with disaster relief is the Perfect Storm of Bad Philanthropy. I saw this a lot with the Tsunami. Completely or largely inexperienced (in the field of emergency relief operations) travellers who happened to be in or near areas hit hard by the Tsunami took it upon themselves to use the Web to start their own fundraising projects, and inject themselves in the relief efforts. GiveMeaning had several of these tourists approach us and we politely rejected them for the simple fact that we knew that emboldening them would distract and hamper the very relief effort that they wanted to help.

This is also true of the many of the organizations that offer short-term projects to volunteers who want "meaningful travel." Most of these volunteer opportunities cater to the volunteer, not the place where the volunteer is "working." It is in fact, cynical and in some cases outright exploitative how these operations work and does little to create sustainable change or significant philanthropic impact on that community. There are of course exceptions. We have a member at GiveMeaning who is pre-Med, has travelled to Africa before, and was approved by an amazing organization called Unite For Sight and started a fundraising page at GiveMeaning which you can see here to raise funds to pay for sight-restoring surgeries that she would be assisting while in Ghana. She's even blogging from Ghana. Pretty cool stuff!

The Web Encourages Uninformed and Unaccountable Knee-Jerk Responses

The idea that I can create a blog, add a PayPal or DropCash button and begin fundraising is fraught with problems. Not only does it invite tremendous fraud (i.e. what controls are in place to actually determine whether a blogger donated the money (s)he collected) but also it seeks to address a problem that isn't understood. For example, I would guess that a majority of the people who raised money for the Red Cross didn't know that the Red Cross' policy is to continue to accept donations for a specific appeal even after enough funds had been raised to accomplish Red Cross' mandate for that appeal and that surplus donations would be applied at the Red Cross' discretion to other projects that might have nothing to do with that appeal. Nor did many of these bloggers look for other smaller organizations and base their fundraising choice on an understanding of operational efficiency, needs assessment or competency.

Is it too much to ask that someone who undertakes a fundraising campaign should seek to know who they are fundraising for, how the funds will be raised, what policies are for excess donations and what reporting they will receive? Asked this way, most of you would likely agree it's not too much to ask. Asked in the form of "Is it too much to ask that charities communicate these things to fundraisers raising less than a certain amount?" And here I'd say, well yes, it is too much to ask for many charities, at least how charities are currently administered. The number of knee-jerks (sorry it's too good a name to pass up) out there continues to rise and charities have not found a way to streamline the communication and fundraising process.

I want to talk about why campaigns that relied heavily on the Internet like Make Poverty History failed both the people who were part of the campaign and the people who were to be helped by the campaign but I will be away from Jess, Rupert and Henry for almost a whole week and it's a beautiful sunny day and my mum is in town so I'm going to stop writing and go to the beach.

Comments: Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Subscribe to Posts [Atom]