I started driving at the age of fifteen and I still have a love/hate relationship with it—mostly I’m just waiting for hover cars to really take off (pun intended). Even after all these years, when the mechanic starts telling me what needs to be fixed, my eyes glaze over. Instead of doing weeks worth of research, I pay him, trusting he knows more than I do, hoping beyond hope he really is an expert. And each time he hands me back my keys, I pray I wont find myself stranded on the side of a bustling highway in the middle of a rainstorm.
It’s similar with the “poverty industry.” The general public feels like they should help, so they give their money or time, wanting to make a difference. But instead of doing the research necessary to find an organization that actually knows what they’re doing, often they simply hope and pray the money makes it where it should.
Here’s the problem—poverty is one of the most complex yet simultaneously oversimplified topics. And, despite the best of intentions in alleviating the issue, how and where you donate can hurt the very people you’re trying to help. But, never fear—there are people and organizations doing great work out there! We want to give you some tangible questions to ask in order to feel confident that your time and money will produce the outcome you want to see.
First things first, there are three main solutions to poverty that need defining from one of VisionTrust's favorite books, When Helping Hurts:
Relief- “The urgent and temporary provision of emergency aid to reduce immediate suffering from a natural or man-made crisis.”
Rehabilitation- “Begins as soon as the bleeding stops; it seeks to restore people and their communities to the positive elements of their precrisis conditions.”
Development- “Process of ongoing change that moves all the people involved—both the ‘helpers’ and the ‘helped’—closer to being in right relationship with God, self, others, and the rest of creation.”
Now ask yourself…
1. Is the work you’re participating in using the appropriate solution to the condition/phase of poverty a community is facing? Key things to look out for—
- Are jobs being created and the economy strengthened or is everything being given out for free after the disaster is over?
- Are there people on the ground, that know the culture, helping to decide which solution is right?
2. Once the disaster/relief stage is over, do they have a long-term plan? Will they switch to or support organizations doing rehabilitation and development?
3. Is there local, sustainable involvement and input?
4. Is the organization held to a higher level of financial accountability and transparency? (We recommend sites like Charity Navigator that can give you the low down on an organization’s financials: www.charitynavigator.org)
The truth is, poverty alleviation is messy because it deals with the healing of broken relationships. The last thing we want is for you to walk away from this post thinking, “Well this is too overwhelming, it’s better if I just don’t give.” NO! In order to keep moving in the positive direction we talked about last week, giving is necessary—we’re just asking that you give wisely. You wouldn’t stop fixing your car just because you don’t understand everything the mechanic is saying, right? So, ask the good questions, find an organization you can trust, and then get excited, because you can make a tangible difference!
(PS – Stay tuned for our post next week when we’ll talk more in-depth about what sustainable solutions might look like for orphans specifically.)