What you should expect when donating

Marketplace Staff Oct 28, 2010

What you should expect when donating

Marketplace Staff Oct 28, 2010


TESS VIGELAND: $1.6 billion in donations were directed toward Haiti in the first six months after the earthquake. The island nation is back on our television screens because of a cholera outbreak — the result of not enough clean water. Seems like clean water would be a first priority after a natural disaster, a good target for all those charitable dollars. So where did the money go? And what results should donors expect to see from their open-hearted largess?

I put those questions to Dr. Una Osili, director of research at the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University.

DR. UNA OSILI: There are two answers to your question. Some organizations have used the money effectively, some have not even started to do the work that they were charged to do by the donors. I just want to caution donors not to sort of throw their hands up, because rebuilding is difficult and Haiti already had significant challenges before this earthquake. We must have realistic expectations as well.

VIGELAND: Absolutely and I think people understand that. But what really struck me is that, for example, clean water seems so very basic.

OSILI: Sure.

VIGELAND: And yes, it’s going to take a long time to rebuild this country. But to not have the basics in place after the billions of dollars that have been spent, I think might really shock people.

OSILI: To me, it speaks to just how fragile the Haitian infrastructure is. This is really what the rebuilding effort was supposed to be. And a lot of organizations had a 10-year plan. And they’ve had a lot of trouble with the rebuilding of that 10-year plan. I think donors, many of them, realize that it was going to be difficult from the beginning. I don’t know that they knew it would be this difficult.

VIGELAND: Yeah, and I guess I’m not saying that I want to be able to see where my money went, but I do want to see that the billions that were given made some sort of impact.

OSILI: Right. And that’s where I think looking organization by organization is really important. A lot of different groups are operating in Haiti. Some are having great results. Others are having much less desirable results. This speaks to the importance of donor education. Donors should take the time to understand which organizations are receiving their dollars and very often you can get that information very readily.

VIGELAND: But how many people are really going to go and do research in the aftermath of a massive crisis. I mean, how realistic is that?

OSILI: Right. I think that’s true. But we are living in a world where the information is readily available and there’s a lot more transparency. There are third parties that provide ratings to allow donors to compare two groups and learn where their resources will have the greatest impact.

VIGELAND: What kind of expectations should you have from your donation? To move this away from Haiti, you look at the Indonesia earthquake from 2004 and it seems like there has been a lot of rebuilding that has gone on. And yet you look at New Orleans from 2005 and you can drive through that city and there are places that look like it’s a week afterwards. How do you gauge what your expectations should be?

OSILI: Most donors, they do expect good, sound financial practices from organizations. But you also increasingly hear donors mentioning the importance of impact and measuring outcomes, so we’re seeing much more accountability. So I think the challenge is communicating how difficult it is to work in some post-disaster environments. And to, essentially, accomplish their goals in the time period that they set out to.

VIGELAND: Dr. Una Osili is director of research at the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University. Thank you so much.

OSILI: Thank you.

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