Surly Curmudgeon

   The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire. The former are idealists acting from highest motives for the greatest good of the greatest number. The latter are surly curmudgeons, suspicious and lacking in altruism. But they are more comfortable neighbors than the other sort.
-- Robert A. Heinlein
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    Thursday, December 27, 2007


    Every once in a while I see a news article that catches my eye and I bookmark it for bloggage, but it sort of languishes until I delete it or find something to relate it to. Here is one such article:

    Call it the donor drain. Raising money for a cause these days has become much like trying to walk up a “down” escalator while it is accelerating. It’s getting tougher just to break even and much easier to fall behind. “The problem is not that [charities are] not getting new money; the problem is that they’re losing an enormous amount of money,” says Bill Levis, the author of a new pilot survey by the Urban Institute that documents the trend.

    Levis’ survey shows that most nonprofits post an average gain of just 10 percent each year: they lose 52 percent of their donations, which is then offset by a 62 percent gain in new or upgraded donations. In short, says Levis, nonprofits are losing almost as much as they’re gaining, pouring a river of money into a nearly open drain.

    Some space is given to the idea that maybe donors are resisting the idea of simply funding more fundraising... they don't want to give a chunk of money just so the organization can hold another telethon to ask for more money. I'll admit there's a certain perception of this, but I actually think it's rather minor in the grand scheme of things. I think there's something else pulling donors away, and today I saw an article illustrating it perfectly:

    THREE years after Australians donated $400 million to rebuild Asian lives devastated by the 2004 tsunami, aid groups are under attack for spending much of the money on social and political engineering.


    The activities - listed as tsunami relief - include a "travelling Oxfam gender justice show" in Indonesia to change rural male attitudes towards women.

    Another Oxfam project, reminiscent of the ACTU's Your Rights at Work campaign, instructs Thai workers in Australian-style industrial activism and encourages them to set up trade unions.

    A World Vision tsunami relief project in the Indonesian province of Aceh includes a lobbying campaign to advance land reform to promote gender equity, as well as educating women in "democratic processes" and encouraging them to enter politics.

    ...and the list goes on.

    I'll agree that some of the things on the agenda are worthwhile -- the status of women in developing nations is absolutely appalling. Somebody probably should be trying to do something about that. I'm not so hip to the unionizing and other leftist issues, but I'll grant that those who believe in such nonsense should be allowed to promote their screwy ideas.

    But all that is MISSING THE POINT.

    The point is, the money was given for a specific purpose: people were dead, injured, sick, homeless, and threatened with starvation. They needed supplies. They needed shelter. They needed help with the basic necessities of life. Those who gave the money were expecting the money to go to that sort of relief. There are plenty of organizations promoting these other causes, and the donors could have given to them at any other time, but when the EMERGENCY came up, and the fundraising was centered on relieving the effects of the EMERGENCY, the donors expected to be able to help with the EMERGENCY at hand. Get it? This money was not given for the purpose of handing out Che Guevara t-shirts to sweatshop workers. It was given to keep a child, a mother, a father, a family from starving to death or dying from exposure. It was given to provide for orphans and widows.

    This is all simply a macrocosm of my earlier point regarding charitable giving. I think a lot of the donors to tsunami relief who read this article will stop giving to these big organizations and start giving to individuals or small organizations instead. People want to know that when they give, it has a particular effect. If you promise to feed, clothe, and shelter the less fortunate with the money you collect, you'd better be doing exactly that. Likewise if you promise to educate those same poor people about treating their women with respect. But when you promise one and do the other, you're at least disingenuous, if not an outright fraud.

    Posted by Tom, 12/27/2007 6:44:58 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...