Happy International Day of Charity.
While I'm all for supporting worthwhile causes, let me draw back the curtain on the seldom-seen world of the NGO. They are money-hungry animals, ever on the search for their next feed. NGOs can only be successful if they have the funding to “make a difference.” It has probably been this way from the beginning of time. That prehistoric canvasser with a stone tablet, the ancient Egyptian trying to get signatures on their papyrus scroll, or the Mandarin eliciting cowrie donations for a new protective wall would have experienced the same issues with funding. There is so much to do, but not enough money to go around.
Take Africa, as an example. A heartland of donated time and money, Sub-Saharan Africa receives approximately US$56 billion in official development assistance each year, down from a 2014 peak of US$135 billion annually in loans, foreign investment, and development aid. How far has that money gone to help the region “lift itself out of poverty” as I’m sure many slick campaign brochures advertise? While the money might make it to bank accounts of aid organizations, it probably doesn’t go much further. Much of it goes to overheads, not to the actual communities in need.
There are more non-profit groups today than you can shake a stick at. According to the US State Department, there are approximately 1.5 million registered NGOs in the United States alone. Non-Profit Action places this number at 10 million worldwide. These don’t even count governmental, intergovernmental, and private-sector agencies trying to do their part as well. Since we’re on a roll, why don’t we look at a few other interesting stats about NGOs?
In India, there is one NGO for every 400 people.
Individuals donate over US$1.5 billion to charities every year.
Three out of four employees in the NGO sector are female, but the majority of leadership positions are held by men.
The average Canadian donates close to US$500 per year to charities.
80 percent of citizens worldwide believe NGOs are an easy way to get involved.
Yet, for some reason budgets seem to constantly run thin. That means every time some donor opens up their coffers, all hell breaks loose. These groups often fight with one another for funding, clout, and exposure, rather than collaborating and pooling resources. Stephen Browne, founder of the Future United National Development System, often recalls an anecdote of what happens when there are too many cooks and not enough chefs. The story comes from Kenya, where “…18 different types of water pump had been provided by 18 different donors. Each required a different instruction manual and set of spare parts.”
None of this is to say, don't donate. Please do! Just be very conscious of where you are sending your money and how it's going to be used.