Daily Archives: 13 January 2011

Giving the wrong way

I regularly read the questions posted to the Community Service section of YahooAnswers. It helps me to know what is trending regarding volunteerism, philanthropy, community service, especially among pre-teens and teens.

One of the many things I’ve learned from participating on YahooAnwers is the ongoing misconception people have, particularly in the USA, that collecting items to send abroad is a great idea and something NGOs and international agencies will help you coordinate. Most organizations do not want donated items. There are a number of reasons why:

    • Donated items can take away desperately needed local jobs. Even donated food can hurt, because how are local farmers supposed to get people to buy their food if a rich country dumps huge amounts of such into a country? There are local people in poor countries barely getting selling clothes, paper, pencils, building supplies and more – and donations of these materials flooding a country can drive them out of business.
  • Donated items shipped from the USA to another country can cost more to ship than simply buying the materials locally, or closer to the affected area.

That’s why many aid agencies try to buy needed materials and supplies locally, whenever possible, in cities near an area in need of such assistance: it helps the local economy, which is often in tatters because of the crisis, and stretches donor dollars much farther.

In addition, a lot of people want to donate their “gently-used clothes and toys” to people in need, not understanding that even the poorest people want their children to have new clothes and new toys, not people’s cast offs, however “gently-used.” Maybe the last thing they have to hold on to is their dignity.

That isn’t to say people shouldn’t donate used items appropriately: I’m a strong advocate for Goodwill, because it is a secular organization, accepting all people as volunteers and recipients of service, and it is focused on helping people to enter or re-enter the workforce. Goodwill stores aren’t just the places where the organization raises funds for its programs; they are also training grounds for those the organization is trying to help. Volunteers work alongside clients on the sales floor and behind the scenes in inventory.

My friend Ann in Ukraine wrote an awesome blog that talks about how international donations of stuff can be giving the wrong way. She wrote about a US NGO that wanted to send a humanitarian aid shipment to a hospital in a Chornobyl-affected area of Ukraine. It turned into a DISASTER. She isn’t trying to discourage people from giving:

There are extremely important reasons to give to humanitarian aid organizations. They do valuable and critical work, and they are essential in conflict zones, disaster areas and other at-risk places around the globe. I don’t want the “take-away” of this post to be that you should never give to a humanitarian aid organization. You should!

That said, her blogs about her situation with the US NGO will give you wonderful insight into why many NGOs in the developing world just-say-no to material donations.