When donors want to get personally involved in challenging causes, don’t rebuke or patronize them. Train them!

In one of my series of posts on how nonprofits and donors responded to the Haiti earthquake, I noted that the conversation between nonprofit disaster relief agencies and donors typically unfolds like so in situations like this:

Donor: How can I help?

Nonprofit disaster relief agency: Send us money. After all, we are highly rated!

Donor: What if I want to get involved more deeply? You know, lend a hand?

Nonprofit disaster relief agency: Then you are behaving irresponsibly, for you, unlike us, are not highly rated in disaster relief. So just send us the money, OK?

Donor: Does it have to be an either/or? I mean, can’t I send money and get personally involved?

Nonprofit disaster relief agency: You’re just not getting this, are you?

So I was delighted this week when Generous Mind Jon Hirst  generously called my attention to David Livermore’s post, 5 strategies to avoid being arrested when you volunteer internationally.

The very existence of such an article implies that going beyond sending money to getting personally involved is not ipso facto an irresponsible, foolish act.

Livermore readily admits that irresponsible, foolish acts do happen, but given that 4.5 million US Christians travel internationally on short-term mission trips each year (and no small percentage of these are trips to global trouble spots; after all, the nature of mission work is that it not infrequently occurs where there’s, you know, trouble), it’s surprising that more irresponsible, foolish acts don’t upset the global apple cart.

The key to equipping ordinary people to be effective in global disasters is, of course, equipping ordinary people to be effective in global disasters. In other words, without training, ordinary people do indeed run a fairly significant risk of doing irresponsible and foolish things in challenging situations. But with training–legitimate, serious, goal-oriented equipping by highly-rated folks like you–not only can they do things previously thought to be the province of only the disaster relief pros. And they can do so at a much lower cost (do you know what a highly-rated disaster relief pro costs these days?), typically raising their own support themselves–and being drawn to a deeper level of commitment and participation in the cause, which benefits your organization in the long run.

Legitimate training for donors in how to personally increase the impact they can have on the cause is, in other words, your alternative to flashy brochures, fundraising banquets, and those pitiful pouty-faced urgent fundraising letters that you and 1.6 million other US nonprofits are regularly mailing with ever-declining results.

So I love the fact that Livermore wrote this article that takes as its premise the idea that donors can and should be involved hands-on, and that such hands-on involvement must be preceded by legitimate training.

Of his 5 strategies to avoid being arrested when you volunteer internationally, I would particularly commend two and amend one:

The commendations:

4. If you haven’t done it here, don’t do it there. In other words, when the disaster hits, don’t show up at the disaster site and ask, “How can I help?” If you have to ask, that means you didn’t pass Training 101. Training 101 happens here, not there.

5. Partner with the Haitians. As you can tell by reading my post on how I am giving to the Haiti relief efforts and why, I couldn’t be more emphatic in my agreement with Livermore on this point. Look–who do you think really stands a better chance of knowing how to navigate the mine field that is Haiti: “highly-rated” disaster relief charities or Haitians? Lest we fret too much about corruption, let us ask: With whom are highly-rated disaster relief charities interfacing in order to deliver their aid? And how would they know who is reputable and who is not? “Because they’re working with the authorities”, you say? Ah, I see. I am completely reassured.

The amendation:

2. Partner with the experts. I would recommend Livermore’s sentence be amended to say, “Partner with the experts at training and utilizing volunteers”. Highly-rated disaster relief charities have a tendency to be wallet-centric when it comes to their vision of how donors factor into the highly-rated disaster relief world. Look for organizations that understand that you are at your best when your hand, head, and heart come attached to your check. I mentioned UMCOR in my Haiti-related post on this subject, but there are certainly other experts in this regard (though they are fewer in number and harder to find than ought to be the case).

Sum it up and say: If we believe that old chestnut, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime,” when it comes to our field operations and programs, why wouldn’t we apply it to our development operations and programs as well?

About Pastor Foley

The Reverend Dr. Eric Foley is CEO and Co-Founder, with his wife Dr. Hyun Sook Foley, of Voice of the Martyrs Korea, supporting the work of persecuted Christians in North Korea and around the world and spreading their discipleship practices worldwide. He is also the International Ambassador for the International Christian Association, the global fellowship of Voice of the Martyrs sister ministries. Pastor Foley is a much sought after speaker, analyst, and project consultant on the North Korean underground church, North Korean defectors, and underground church discipleship. He and Dr. Foley oversee a far-flung staff across Asia that is working to help North Koreans and Christians everywhere grow to fullness in Christ. He earned the Doctor of Management at Case Western Reserve University's Weatherhead School of Management in Cleveland, Ohio.
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