I have heard the term ‘donor fatigue’ in recent years. It’s a reference to people struggling to cope with the number of requests for financial help for a wide range of community, national and global needs. I don’t know if I totally agree with the concept. On one hand, I do see that we can be overwhelmed by the growing need and requests for support. This can lead to corresponding feelings of guilt and pressure to make a contribution. Or it can desensitise us to the demands of others and our own potential to make a difference – won’t there be just as many needs tomorrow?
But I see more evidence of ‘donor frustration’.
This is when people say, “I am happy to give. I want to give. I just want to have some confidence that my contribution will be used wisely and effectively to make a difference.”
And in recent years, this expectation has been undermined. More charities have been shown to apply excessive percentage of donations to fundraising, salaries, travel and perks. Charities have become businesses, and welfare or development work, an industry.
So, what are we to do? Do we stop giving?
I don’t think so.
I think the best choice is to become savvy not cynical. To become aware not disengaged. And in the process, discover there are many organisations and charities that are achieving so much more than we can ever imagine.
So, go ahead…ask yourself and your charity the following five questions.
1.DIGNITY: How does the charity speak about and present the people it assists?
We have spent decades watching charities use fundraising images of sad children and sad adults. These kinds of images present people at their most desperate. Accompanying language speaks about the poor surviving on nominated ‘dollars per day’ without reference to the context or complexity of their lives. Too often, there is little dignity in the images and limited reference to an expectation or belief in the capacity of people to help themselves. Often, we need to see and present the capacity in people before they can see it for themselves.
Follow-up Questions: “Does this image reflect how I would want my family’s needs to be represented? Would this inspire me to believe I could support my family?”
2.COMMUNITY PARTICIPATION: What is the level of community involvement in the project plan?
There is a universal understanding of people’s basic needs: food, shelter, clean water, access to education and healthcare. The challenge is how are these best achieved for the long term? In 2009, UNICEF estimated that more than 50,000 wells were lying unused in Central Africa. Wells dug by foreign funds but without the commitment or upskilling of local communities. These kinds of statistics are not isolated. What is becoming more and more evident is that development and empowerment cannot be given to another person or community. They emerge from a partnership of resources and upskilling, planning and contribution.
Follow-up Questions: “What is the evidence that the planning of this activity is shared by the local community members? How will the community sustain the activity after the NGO or development organisation is no longer involved?”
3. IMPACT: What information does the charity collect and report to substantiate the results of its programmes?
A business model uses profit, after tracking revenue and expenses, to measure success. What do charities apply? Charities need to establish clear measurements of ‘success’. Most often a combination of social and economic indicators. To ensure that impact is measured and reported. This extends beyond measuring activity (e.g. how many children registered for school) to a thoughtful measurement answering the question, ‘What difference is being made?” The next step is the presence of change and modification in response to results. A changing organisation is often evidence of a maturing organisation.
Follow-up Questions: “What will be measured and what are the baseline indicators that will tells us if the program is making the anticipated impact?”
4. EFFICIENCY: How efficiently does the charity use its financial resources?
A charity, like every other organisation on the planet, has expenses. We tend to divide them into two simple categories – administration and project – with administration costs the only ones closely scrutinised and often resisted (“Please make sure all of my donation reaches the ground”). There is a high level of community concern around fundraising costs which needs scrutiny with some expenditure outrageous. But simply outlawing administration costs is too simplistic. Many administration costs are legitimate, even vital, for accountability, reporting, and monitoring of impact. Project costs associated with implementing the activities are more difficult to assess (e.g. cars and travel costs). This is particularly true when charities only report percentage expenditure without an indication of income.
Follow-up Questions: “What is the total income and expenditure allocation (percentage or actuals) for each expense category in a calendar year? What is the total income and expenditure for a particular project? What are the corresponding outcomes? What is the funding need in the coming years for the same group of people?”
5. EVIDENCE: What is the research or evidence base for the project design?
A good project idea, even a great project idea, needs to have a foundation in research and/or successful practice. Charities need to be able to substantiate why a particular approach works and the wider impact it is expected to have on a community group. And such an explanation should extend beyond a sound bite or slogan. Charity leaders need to be able to talk about how a project works, changes that have been made, and the reasons they have committed to an approach. When an organisation is exploring a new initiative, it needs to be understood that it is a pilot initiative set out to test a hypothesis. This can be critical before over-investing into an approach that is being applied in a new setting.
Follow-up Questions: “What are your expectations regarding wider outcomes of this project? What evidence supports the likelihood of this being achieved?”
So let’s ask the questions of charities. Then let’s get behind them and see our charity dollar grow in size and effectiveness so it can make a real dent in the poverty and inequity that crosses our planet.
We would love to think that Foxglove Project ticks every box but where it doesn’t, let us know. We are not above nor outside of feedback. We are a passionate honest organisation seeking to bring hope and opportunity to some of the poorest communities in the world and would simply love you to join us.
Let’s give well!