When deciding where to send your money for victims of the Haiti earthquake

Benjamin just wrote me an email suggesting I blog about donating to charities at times of crisis such as that in Haiti. He wondered if I had preferred charities for different outcomes (emergency response, infrastructure building, etc).

I think there is a lot going on when we decide where to send our money. I think the common factor amongst everyone is that we all want to give our money to an organisation that we can trust to spend our money responsibly.

I learnt and thought about this subject working in Aceh after the tsunami. I arrived about 2 years after the chaotic emergency period, so I didn’t see those early days and months when decisions were made on the fly and money poured in. But we (my friends and colleagues) would often talk about how organisations were spending the huge amounts of money they received from personal donations (and of course, governments and other donor facilities).

Most of our assessments were based on personal experiences or what we’d heard from friends:

“[insert name of massive charity] wasted so much money in the emergency period! I’d never donate to them. I’ve written to everyone I know and told them not to”

“I’m really impressed by the team at [insert name of other organisation], they seem really responsible.”

Even though what I saw in Aceh has definitely informed my personal opinions of different organisations, I know that a lot of our information was subjective, or not necessarily indicative of the broader organisation, and certainly not the kind of information I’d pass on to others with any authority.

There are just so many grey areas. For example, a large and very well-respected NGO ran what I considered a successful shelter program, rebuilding thousands of houses – but not before making some huge, costly mistakes along the way. Does that mean they wasted money? I suppose they did. Does that mean they failed? I don’t think so.

An organisation’s very recognisable name and good reputation aren’t necessarily indicators that your money will be well spent. It is equally true that just because you’ve never heard of organisation, doesn’t mean they don’t make a big and positive difference. The reverse of both of those statements are probably just as true.

For the record, I donate to Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). While MSF attend to only a small part of what makes up an emergency response  and can’t do it alone, they do so without government funding. Their independence from governments is a crucial aspect to allowing them to do what they do, but it also makes them more dependent on individual donations. I don’t support MSF just because of their independence, I also sincerely believe that they do good work with limited budgets and make tangible differences in the lives of people in some of the world’s harshest places.

Please don’t withhold donations for fear that your money will be wasted. There are worse things in life than a charity wasting your money.

Back to Benjamin’s original question, which I’ve succesfully dodged, if you do want to donate to a particular cause but aren’t sure who best to send your money to, email me at sarahfortuna [at] gmail dot com and perhaps I can offer some of my off-the-record, personal suggestions.

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3 thoughts on “When deciding where to send your money for victims of the Haiti earthquake

  1. Meaghan

    This is such a valuable insight. I’ve always wondered where donations actually go. (Must admit, I’m not 100% sure that when you ‘buy a goat’ for a village, the village actually gets a goat).

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