Jesus · Uncategorized

‘The Poor Will Always Be With You’ OR Why bother giving to the poor?

I read a lot about poverty and what’s being done to alleviate it. I believe that I have a responsibility to help the poor. Why I believe that is a whole other post. Since I’ve already established that premise, the next question is, ”What should I be doing to help the poor?”
The more you read about development and foreign aid, the more depressed you will become. Most secular aid workers who have been in the field for any length of time will tell you that aid doesn’t work. It solves small problems and saves lives, but it never ends poverty on a large scale. Often it is extremely inefficient and even wasteful. There are many, many stories of foreign aid that actually does more harm than good. I spend a lot of time, money and energy advocating for the poor and the oppressed and it’s a huge buzz kill to think that it might actually be harming those I mean to help. Rather than giving to NGO’s, I could have a killer wardrobe and satisfy my addiction to hazelnut macchiatos.
If you’re naturally skeptical and even a bit cynical like myself, you might ask the question, ”Why bother? We’re only removing one drop at a time from an ocean of need, an impossible project, so why even bother at all?” For me it goes back to the starfish story. You know, the kid is walking along a beach littered with dying starfish and he’s throwing them back into the ocean one at a time. His friend says he’s not making any difference because there are so many and the kid says, ”It makes a huge difference to that one.” That resonates with me. What if I were that one starfish? Or my kid was that one starfish? I would want someone to bother to help. So despite the impossibility of the task, I keep on for the sake of the one.
How do I make sure that my money isn’t being wasted? Luckily the aid industry has become subject to intense scrutiny and it only takes a few clicks on the internet to see a breakdown of where an NGO’s money is being spent. We can see how much the CEO makes, how much is spent on administration, and how much is spent on advertising. Because of some very bad press, non-profits are increasingly transparent with their allocation of funds.
However, there is a downside to this. Many non-profits feel pressured to show ‘results’, even though the nature of their work is difficult to quantify. For example, for an NGO that focuses on prevention of sex trafficking, how can they count how many girls weren’t trafficked? They can’t count that directly, so instead they count the number of police officers in their training classes or the number of girls they put in school. These numbers are important, but not as exciting as counting how many girls were rescued from a brothel raid. Some non-profits are just naturally better suited for our results oriented culture.
Of course I believe in accountability, but I also believe we should recognize the slow and steady nature of development work. What is important is long term change in the lives of the poor. Often that only happens after a period of relationship building. Take the sex trafficking charity, for example. A girl who is rescued from a brothel then requires years and years of counseling, rehabilitation, job training and education. We must be willing to give to the girl years after her rescue for our giving to be truly effective. If we want to fund the brothel raid but not the safe home, we have to examine our motives. Are we in it for excitement or long term change?
What I have done in my giving is to go deep instead of wide. I give primarily to two organizations (AIM and World Vision) and I’m heavily involved with both. I have committed to long term funding as a monthly donor because I know that non-profits make budget predictions based on monthly commitments. Instead of giving smaller amounts to multiple charities, I picked the two that resonated most powerfully with me. I’m always happy to give because my involvement with these groups keeps me plugged in to their stories. I love hearing their victories and their struggles because I feel that I’m in the fight too.
This is what had worked for me. What about you? Where do you give and why?

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One thought on “‘The Poor Will Always Be With You’ OR Why bother giving to the poor?

  1. Love this point: “If we want to fund the brothel raid but not the safe home, we have to examine our motives. Are we in it for excitement or long term change?” Why we give is just as important as what we give. Excellent post.

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