As we breeze through the Thanksgiving weekend and into the rest of the holiday season, I came across some sobering blog posts. Here are some news items and thoughts about nonprofit and charitable giving that brought me up short.
- It is not always easy to hear what Sandra Schimmelpfennig has to say about charitable giving in her aptly named blog, Good Intentions
Are Not Enough, but she always stops me in my tracks and helps me to see a new perspective.
In Daily Small Humiliations, Saundra reminds us that the people we think we are helping may be less than grateful, especially when our gifts say more about us than about their needs and self-respect. Here, Saundra takes on the practice of hotels using their left over soap to salve their consciences to the detriment of good sense and the humiliation of the recipients. It's hard to get our American heads around what people feel so far away and in such different circumstances from our own. Fortunately, we have people such as Saundra to help:
"The lack of choice is one of the factors that can lead to a feeling of helplessness and hopelessness for people living in poverty. Soap is not expensive - even in poor areas. So if lack of soap is a real issue, then why are people not given a choice between receiving a new bar of soap or a remade bar of soap? The answer is simple, it's because remade soap is what is in the best interest of the donors and the non-profit making the soap."
- International health funding from big foundations came under scrutiny by two university researchers earlier this year. It started with a 2007 Kaiser/Pew Global Health Survey that asked how local publics in developing countries perceived the most serious health problems in their own regions and what the actual disease "burdens" were in those areas. Daniel Esser and Kara Keating Bench then compared those perceptions with what was actually being funded by large private foundations such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
It turns out that there is a disparity. For instance, while HIV-AIDS amounts to only 3 percent of the total disease "burden" in Asia, it was the second most highly funded health problem. Tuberculosis, malaria and other infections diseases were ranked as low priority by people in the Middle East but received the third most money from large foundations in 2005-2007. Meanwhile chronic disease and the strengthening of basic health systems are neglected.
Professor Esser is quoted in Global Diseases, Local Needs which appears in the Winter 2012 issue of the Stanford Social Innovation Review (subscription required):
"Private foundations don't fund the issues that people surveyed in 27 countries think should be the national priority....Whereas national financial assistance for global health shows a weak but at least significant response to preference, private foundations seem to be responsive to neither preferences nor disease burdens at the national level....The diseases that get funded tend to be the ones for which funders can take credit....They are infectious, highly visible, and in some way 'ownable.'"
The question may be one of local autonomy. Should charitable foundations, especially large ones that contribute a large share of international aid, listen more to the recipients of their aid for direction? Should local people help determine the best ways to spend the aid dollars from developed countries?
You can access the original paper which appeared in World Development, 39, 2011.
- Ray D. Madoff wrote something of a wake-up call about donor-advised funds in the
New York Times recently. Madoff is a professor at Boston College Law School. The debate over whether to change the deduction for charitable contributions spurred his article, Tax Write-Off Now, Charity Later. Madoff says that a lot of charitable money is going into donor-advised funds and hanging out in them for years at a time. He thinks congress should require these funds to use the money for charitable causes within seven years. Madoff writes:
"More and more charitable dollars are now being directed to what are called 'donor-advised funds.' Many of these funds are affiliated with large financial institutions like Fidelity, Schwab and Goldman Sachs, and hold, invest and eventually distribute dollars for charitable purposes. In the meantime, they generate significant management and investment fees for the institutions that house them, which have little incentive to speed up the distribution of resources to the charitable sector. Most important, there is no payout obligation; while donors receive the tax deduction as soon as they make their contribution, their money can languish in these charitable holding pens for decades or even centuries...."
- Global Poverty and Charitable Giving
- A Donor's Guide to Global Emergencies
- Donor-Advised Funds: Democratized Philanthropy