Thursday, December 8, 2011

Donor Beware

We all want to help make a difference in the world and help out. That's why charitable giving is one of those things that we all try to do if we can, even in tough economic times. But the world of charitable giving is fraught with problems and people are becoming more and more wary.

It was revealed today that Japan is using part of its funds from the tsunami relief fund to subsidize their annual whale hunt. While they argue that the whale hunt is for research purposes, the hunt ultimately ends with the death of animals and the sale of their meat. This has caused conservationists to get up in arms, but the fact that this practice, which clearly has a commercial value to it, is being subsidized by aid money, is frustrating.

So little of the aid money that we give in times of crisis seems to go to helping actual people. The subsidy will likely indirectly benefit victims of the tsunami by pumping some revenue to stricken areas, and it probably accounts for very little of the total aid received, but it points to a much larger problem with aid. Donors don't know where it goes, who makes the decisions how it's spent and who actually benefits.

And yet, the need to help others is strong, particularly when a natural disaster occurs causing unnecessary suffering. Do organizations take unfair advantage of these very human feelings to advance other causes? It's a true cause for concern for everyone, and it's not just limited to natural disasters. Initiatives for poverty alleviation and medical research within our own communities are also suspect. Some of the largest charitable organizations are now run as businesses with CEOs who make salaries comparable to bankers. How does that seem justified?

This is not to say that we should stop giving to charitable causes. But we might all want to be more aware of what's going on within the organizations that are soliciting us for donations. Like corporations, charities should be held accountable for the way that money is spent and their CEOs should be encouraged to literally spread the wealth by not accepting such large paycheques. We should all be choosing organizations that are making better use of our dollars.

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