Donors are a charity’s lifeblood. Especially for NGO’s like Sunrise Cambodia who receive no government funding, the people who contribute to our programs on a regular or yearly basis are the people who keep the projects going on the ground in Cambodia. We love you. But even some of the kindest donors do things that hamper a charity’s ability to have an impact, or even stop them doing their work at all. It’s not out of malice or ignorance. It’s out of a lack of knowledge about how to have the most sustainable impact in the most efficient way.
So if you want to up the ante and make sure your generosity has as big an impact as possible, here are a few ways you can make your charity go further.
DON’T: restrict your funding to one particular area
Donors connect with certain projects. We understand that. It’s human nature to care more about certain things because you relate to them. But in charities, everything is connected. You’re a teacher and you want to fund education. That’s fantastic. Education is an absolute world-changer. But you can’t teach kids anything if they can’t get to school because the bridge is flooded. No one can concentrate on math if they have dysentery from dirty water. There’s no teachers to teach if there’s no one in HR recruiting them. Every project goes through ups and downs, high need periods and low need periods. Restricting where your donation is allowed to go shackles your kindness to one particular field. Sometimes that’s exactly where the money needs to go – other times it might not be.
DO: leave it up to need
When you make a donation with a note saying, ‘please use where needed most’, it warms the cockles of our hearts. Unrestricted funds lets charities direct the money to where it will have the biggest impact. This might mean your donation ends up doing something boring like paying for petrol for the school bus, or sitting in a reserve account in case an emergency hits. It’s not exciting, but you know what? That money has to come from somewhere. An unrestricted donation has a bigger impact. Period.
DON’T: give ‘stuff’
There’s definitely a time and place for ‘stuff’ donations: Christmas food drives, old mobile phones for homeless jobseekers – the list goes on. But it can definitely lead to a whole list of problems, especially for charities like Sunrise who work overseas.
To start with, international shipping is expensive. And even after the cost, if you’re shipping to a country like Cambodia, there’s a good chance it won’t even get there, or gets ‘lost’ on the way. Even if you’re sending a little treat for your sponsor child in an envelope, make sure to send something small and easy to share – stickers or temporary tattoos are a favourite with the kids! – this way no one gets jealous.
The second ‘stuff’ problem is a bit more complex. Charities are often inundated with clothes, medicine, books and toys that are ripped, torn, out of date or just completely wrong for the culture or climate. Yes, Cambodia is three hours behind, but out of date cough syrup is still going to be out of date in Phnom Penh. And old undies, fleeces, and culturally inappropriate clothing just goes to waste. Even the poorest of the poor won’t wear clothing that clash with their culture or leave them broiling in Cambodian humidity. It’s great that you don’t want to just dump them, but there are more hygienic ways to reuse your knickers that don’t involve sending them halfway across the world.
DO: Give money
Money is an easy way around the ‘stuff’ issue. It’s costs one dollar to mail a check. Or do it for free on our website. That money can be used to buy clothes, food and medicine in Cambodia at a fraction of Australian prices, plus it puts money back into the local economy and fuels job growth – that’s going to lift Cambodia out of poverty much more quickly than an old t-shirt will.
Big on stuff, low on cash? Pull a Milly and Lilli and sell it! These two star fundraisers held a store at their school fete and sold their old toys, books and clothing and raised over $400 for Sunrise. That’s enough to build a well in a village and provide clean water for a whole community AND your stuff has gone to a loving home, minus the extra fuel miles and postage fees!
DON’T: support welfare charity
Charities don’t do welfare. You can’t get a tax-deductible receipt if you’re providing welfare. There’s a good reason for that. Welfare and handouts on a continual basis create a dependency on donors and the charity. It shouldn’t be used as an ongoing strategy to break the cycle of poverty. The only thing it breaks is people’s independence.
DO: support sustainable change
Sustainable development is different to welfare or handouts. At Sunrise we recently took over another charity and as part of the merge, examined their programs. One of these programs was a monthly ‘rice drop’ to families that the donors were sponsoring and in some cases, had been for years. A thorough assessment of the 287 families receiving a monthly rice drop found that only not all of them were in need of emergency food. Many of the families were deemed able to feed themselves. The sponsor’s money could have gone into areas more useful for these families like sustainable education and health programs that have long-term positive effects.
Of course there are people who do need that sack of rice to get by in a difficult month and for those people, we’re continuing to give them rice on a case by case basis – but it’s so important to look deeper and not just hand things out because that is what’s always been done. If money is invested in different areas, like building better roads so Dad can get to work, boost the local economy, give his kids a good role model and buy his own rice, then there’s no need for welfare charity in the first place. That’s sustainable development.
DON’T: be a voluntourist
This topic is so meaty it has a whole blog all of its’ own. Basically, despite the good intentions behind volunteering (and they are admirable), a short-stay, volunteering holiday is more likely be detrimental to the growth of a developing community.
To the traveller who wants to volunteer to play with the kids at an orphanage or even to build a house, please reflect on your motives and expectations. Is volunteering for a short amount of time helping create a sustainable community and economy or is it more about making you feel like you’ve done your part to make the world a better place and give your life new meaning? Could you be negatively impacting power relations within the local work culture as a western volunteer because, even without direct training or experience in a particular field, you are considered more knowledgeable? Volunteering is not as simple as it seems.
DO: share your skills in a respectful, helpful way that puts the community first
If you have strong, solid skills, can donate or raise $1000 to cover all admin costs of getting you there and inducting you, plus you have the maturity to use your skills in the most effective way possible, you’re so welcome to become a Sunrise Cambodia mentor. The biggest impact a mentor can have is often in a training capacity. Instead of working directly with kids, a mentor can work with the teachers, doctors or nurses to bring their methods up to scratch and make sure the most up to date process are being used in Sunrise classrooms and health clinics. Sounds like something you can do? We want you! (link)
A final note: just trust us
You should absolutely look into where your donation goes – you’ve a savvy giver after all, it’s smart to check up on it. So peruse annual reports, call up every now and again and ask how things are going – charities love talking about their progress. But once you’re satisfied, let us be to do what we do best.
Trustworthy charities hire professionals. Professional managers, top-notch community developers, staff who have years of experience and research behind them regarding the most effective ways to break the cycle of poverty and fundraisers who are skilled in keeping things going on the ground.
Trust us, we got this.