Sadly, I scored 100% on Charity Navigator’s Back To School Quiz, posted today on the nonprofit watchdog’s website. Today’s post is my repentance.
Now, let me be clear. I like Charity Navigator in general and the premise of the quiz in particular:
As the new school year gets underway, the first item on every teacher’s agenda is to determine what knowledge his/her students have retained over the summer. This inspired our staff to create a short, 12 question quiz to assess your nonprofit aptitude. Our nonprofit test will reveal whether you’re ready to move to the front of the class or if you could use a refresher course.
The quiz is nicely designed. After you answer each question, you get a little lecture explaining why you were right or wrong. And if you’ve been reading the blog for a while, you know that CN’s biases not infrequently match my own, and I typically defend them against most comers (e.g., see here and here).
My problem came on Question 5 of the Back To School Quiz.
I knew what answer Charity Navigator wanted. And I knew that I could not in good conscience give that answer.
As you might expect, my convictions caved like a tower of Jell-O in the face of my desire just to ace the test.
Ergo, this repentant blog.
Question 5 asks, innocently enough:
The best way to help after a major disaster (like Hurricane Katrina or the Myanmar Cyclone), when people desperately require the basic necessities such as food, water, and clothing is to:
____donate money to a vetted charity
____box up and send your old clothing
____purchase and send nonperishable items like bottled water
The answer Charity Navigator wants you to pick, of course, is the first option: donate money to a vetted charity. And because I have no cajones and still maintain my schoolboy competitiveness, I selected that option and was rewarded with the happy green checkmark and the following explanation:
After a hurricane, earthquake, tsunami, tornado, and other natural disasters, we’re often bombarded with images of people in dire need of food and water. [Snide editor’s note: It is of course the vetted charities that bombard us with those images. But I digress. I have no moral standing to make this snide observation, since I cast my principles to the wind and opted for the green checkmark and the ten points.] It is hard to fault anyone who wants to send such items to the afflicted region. But this simple type of philanthropy is not practical or efficient. Right after a disaster, there is no one to receive these goods, much less organize them and distribute them to the victims. Furthermore, charities are often able to partner with companies to acquire in-kind donations such as bottled water and new clothing.
So, instead of buying things like canned food and diapers, the best way to help is by simply donating money to a highly-rated relief charity. Instead of boxing up and sending your old clothing, have a garage sale and turn your used goods into cash and donate that to a worthy charity. And if possible, make your contribution online so that the charities quickly receive and put your donation to good use.
In Dead Aid: Why Aid Is Not Working And How There Is A Better Way For Africa, Dambisa Moyo notes:
(N)ine months after the 2004 Asian tsunami, for whatever the reason (bureaucracy, institutional inefficiencies or the absence of suitable organizations on the ground to disburse the monies), the charity World Vision had spent less than a quarter of the US $100 million it had raised.
As regards charities partnering with companies to acquire in-kind donations such as bottled water and new clothing, the phrase reminded me of a great dinner conversation I had a few weeks back with a couple of colleagues who had operated a key warehouse for one of the highly-regarded (vetted) disaster relief charities in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. They told funny-if-they-weren’t-so-sad stories about the literal truckloads of Spanish language romance novels and truck-size pairs of Dickies jeans that came as in-kind donations from corporate partners.
So what’s the answer? Boxing up old clothes? Purchasing and mailing bottled water?
According to a report issued last month on the fourth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, the answer is a surprising and direct refutation to the Charity Navigator notion that “(r)ight after a disaster, there is no one to receive these goods, much less organize them and distribute them to the victims.”
The conclusion of this year’s Disaster Accountability Project report is that the US remains “dangerously unprepared” for the next catastrophic storm–and not because donors aren’t channeling enough money to highly-regarded, worthy, vetted charities.
Instead, a key reason why is that a major element of disaster response capacity is overlooked; namely, the small, local volunteer-based organizations, from churches to food pantries to community centers to homeless shelters, already on the ground and ready to receive, organize, and distribute–knowledgeably–critical relief supplies to the areas they’ve already been serving for years.
The critical role of local organizations and their ability to reach community members in need cannot be ignored. While these small nonprofits and faith-based organizations do not have the resources for national public service announcements and billion dollar fundraising campaigns, they need access to some of the donated dollars that flow into the coffers of larger organizations able to broadcast commercials across the country. FEMA might consider exploring ways that donated dollars can be split proportionally or that even a small percentage (5-10%) can be used to support the important work of local organizations.
The correct answer to Question 5, in other words, has been crowded off the screen in exactly the same way the correct answer is crowded out of the disaster relief solution by all the worthy, highly-regarded, vetted relief orgs.
The correct answer is that the future belongs to small, dare I say even unincorporated, ministries sprawling with volunteers connecting with individuals and other small, unincorporated ministries, all discipled to serve in their sphere of influence before, during, and after whatever hurricanes come their way.