Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A Different Edge on Giving

By: Evan J. Anderson
December 14, 2010

Until recently, the only image of Ethiopia I had was similar to the one above. As a past participant in several of World Vision's "30 Hour Famines," an initiative by the non-profit to encourage students to forego eating for a weekend while raising funds for starving children across the globe, I was frequently exposed to their style of advertising. Everyone has seen an ad on TV for child sponsorship, and everyone knows the feeling they get when viewing one of these. One comment on the YouTube video above says it all, "This makes me feel very bad and sad." And while this sadness and guilt is a very effective marketing strategy in encouraging viewers to donate to organizations like World Vision, it has a lasting effect on the mental set of people in the Global North. Giving becomes a chore, and it is no longer done for the right reasons.

In 2008, my church decided to stop its partnership with World Vision, and create its own fundraiser, while maintaining the fasting element. As can be seen in the video below, the new initiative had an entirely new focus: hope instead of guilt.

The decision to switch to the new pilot program can be interpreted as a fundamental dissatisfaction with the entire system of charitable giving in this country. Instead of seeing the Global South as some distant place, doomed without that next donation, people need to be exposed to a more diverse set of images, especially those that convey positive messages. Now, some may argue that if Americans only hear positive stories from the Global South, donations might decrease, and those who were relying on that aid might die. But if the "flies-in-the-eyes" reporting is replaced with accurate, level-headed accounts of the gaping North-South gap, I believe Americans will generously respond.

My desire to fundamentally change the way Americans look at the developing world was a major factor that led to my involvement with EGI. Rather than knowing a country only by some video footage of children gathering water from a dirty well, I decided to get to know that country on a more personal level. I am highly satisfied with the work I have done with EGI so far and can not wait to see what the future brings!

Evan J. Anderson, an undergraduate student at American University in Washington, D.C., is majoring in International Studies with a concentration in International Development and serves as a Steering Committee Member of U.S. College Students for Ethiopia, an innovative project of the Ethiopian Global Initiative (EGI) that provides college students from the United States the opportunity to intern or volunteer with Ethiopian-led organizations headquartered in Ethiopia.


  1. Evan,

    I am in agreement with you about exposing the West or the “Global North” with images that convey positive messages about developing nations and the idea of “hope, instead of guilt”. But, you continue to write that "the decision to switch to the new pilot program can be interpreted as a fundamental dissatisfaction with the entire system of charitable giving in this country". I have the same concerns in some aspects, but I am curious to know what think about the following things:

    A. What about WorldVision or the entire charitable giving system (specifically) made you feel dissatisfied? Is it the possibility of mismanagement, high operative costs, fraudulency and scandal, low accountability and transparency or other?

    B. I personally like the idea of Pilot projects and do like what I see on the B1 website (including the Haiti relief project); but, do you believe small-scaled charities or pilot programs such as the one you are involved in could, in reality, raise the finances and have the functionality to insure more effective and immediate relief means, than say, larger foundations and complex NGO partnerships? And what about during times of emergency or massive disasters or ones that are prolonging which require lots of continued funding? (i.e. Haiti Earthquake, Asian Tsunami, Pakistan floods, Potential civil war in Sudan).

    C. I would like to get your thoughts on Religious Charitable Giving. I understand that most religious Charities, specifically Christian NGOs help due to their religious conviction to help others who are in need- most help everyone regardless of faith, creed, race and so on; but, how do you feel about the possibility that religious charities do not attract non-religious donors (which account for big part of donors) and could decrease their chances of receiving new donors because they might be perceived to help only their own members? And, do you think it is more or less strategic to be a religious institution that not? When it comes to attracting more donations, members etc.. .

    Leul Yohannes

  2. Leul,

    Thanks for such a thorough read of the post and for your great points!

    A. By calling the switch a "dissatisfaction with the entire system of charitable giving" I meant exactly that, the system of giving. I was not referring to the process which follows where NGOs attempt to distribute those funds to those who need it most. Though the issues you address: "mismanagement, high operative costs, fraudulency and scandal, low accountability and transparency" are huge issues in the scope of international development, this post was not written to criticize the work of NGOs abroad. Instead the post seeks to remind readers that in an NGO's quest for funding to support its critical work abroad, it ends up distorting givers' view of the Global South.

    B. In a similar way, I am not an expert on the effectiveness of developmental NGOs abroad, simply an observer of the effects their advertising methods have on those in the West.

    C. When it comes to religious charitable giving, I do not think that religious charities fail at attracting non-religious donors per se. Though a large majority of their donors may in fact be religious, I believe this is more circumstantial. The religious community has tremendous powers of mobilization, and has in times of crisis, collections for various, likely religious charities. The non-religious community in turn is not as organized and less likely to donate to one specific charity, rather to a wide variety. I think that at this point in time, it is still more strategic for a charity to be affiliated with some religious institution. One reason for this is continuity in donations. Without some continuity, it is impossible for an NGO to successfully operate, and with a relatively constant population of donors, the task of creating a balanced budget becomes easier for NGOs. If the size of the religious community continues to decline in the future, this may change, but right now, in my opinion, a religious charity has distinct fundraising advantages over a non-religious one.

    I hope that answered some of your biggest concerns, but feel free to follow up with more questions!


Important Information

© 2010 Ethiopian Global Initiative, Inc. Material may be republished with credit to this blog and/or the original author. The views and comments expressed in this blog are not necessarily those of the Ethiopian Global Initiative, Inc.