How to know who to give to (Part 2)
Didn’t read Part 1? Here’s the LINK.
Yesterday I went out on a limb and decided it was time to open the discussion about money and who we should give to. As a fellow worker in Haiti reminded me, this is an age-old issue. One that has long proceeded my time in Haiti, and one that will (unfortunately) continue on when my time comes to an end.
It is hard to know which happened first: the chicken or the egg? Was the preacher who worked alongside the boy in prison corrupt from the beginning, or did years of financial gifts with minimal accountability from Americans create his corruption? Probably a mixture of both.
So what do we do? How can we become wise givers, while also helping our Haitian brothers and sisters be honest receivers as well? Here are a few of my suggestions, based on years of experiences, observations, and multiple personal failures.
No hand outs- I’m starting with this one because I feel like this is what does the most damage in Haiti, yet it never seems to stop. Refusing to give handouts on your short-term mission trip is not only better for Haiti, but it is also better for you. Better for Haiti because it helps prevent unsustainable dependency on foreigners. Better for you because it will help your work in Haiti be based on relationships and not just money. If you are on a mission trip and are presented with the opportunity to give to a specific need, like help someone repair their leaky roof or pay for medical treatment for a child, here is what I suggest: Giving the money straight to the local is a hand-out. If you do that then you set the precedent that every mission team comes with money to give away. What is better is to connect with an organization on ground who is familiar with the person in need and their situation. Give them the donation and let them follow through with the need. They will be able to oversee that the money is used correctly and will be able to report back with the results. When it comes down to it, hand-outs aren’t long-term solutions. But often times they create long-term problems. So it really is best if we stop this practice all around.
Do your research – This could be a blog post in and of itself, but there are a few suggestions I want to cover today. First, if you are being asked to help with (fill in the blank) there is a good chance you aren’t the only one being asked. Chances are the local has sent the request to 10 other people, hoping at least one person will agree to help, but would also gladly accept all 10. Try your best to find this out. I’ve seen too many cases where two or three people are sending funds to someone for the exact same thing and have no idea there are other donors involved. Second, learn how much things really cost. Just last week I had someone in the States message me to ask about school and transportation prices. The person they sponsor was asking for an increase in support and it didn’t sound reasonable to them. Once she told me the prices being communicated with her, it was clear the student in Haiti was exaggerating his needs. Before you agree to any amount, do your research. Reach out to expats on the ground who can check on the situation for you and validate prices. Know that I will gladly be this person for you if needed.
Doing your research is also important when deciding to support an organization. My first suggestion is to take the time to see whether they actually do what they claim. For example, if an organization says they take care of children, look at the quality of care they provide. If they are a school, research how many kids actually pass their government exams. Again, take your time. Know any organization can put on a good show when you come to visit. Any orphanage can make their kids appear clean and happy for one week. Any church can fill its pews for one Sunday. I’ve seen both happen more than once. What you need to find out is how things operate when potential donors aren’t around. But how do you do this? Research guided by patience and prayer. Invest in relationships with the leaders of the organization, stateside and/or on the ground. Get to know the people they serve. Speak with current or past donors. Communicate with other well-known organizations or leaders in Haiti and learn the reputation of the organization you are interested in supporting. If the locals don’t have respect for the organization, that is often a clear sign.
Know who you are giving to- Whether you are giving to an organization or an individual, make every effort to get to know them. Without a relationship in place, it is hard to determine how best to give. This was difficult for me when I first moved to Haiti. After years of short-term trips I believed I was coming to a place where I already had a lot of friends. It didn’t take long to realize that many of those friendships had been solely based on money. They were my friends because of the money I gave them. So when the money stopped, so did the friendships. It is always best to establish true relationships with people long before money is exchanged. I realize this takes a lot of time, and often isn’t possible. But when it is, always choose meaningful relationships first.
Set clear boundaries- This one is mainly for incidences where you may give to someone outside of an organization (something I beg of you to proceed with great caution). If you choose to do this, please set clear boundaries up front. Make sure the receiver knows exactly how much you will give them and how often. Unless the need is valid, don’t go outside of that boundary. The last thing you want is to become the fairy godmother/father of the person you support. And please trust me when I say most locals will test this out on you if you open that door. If you help them with one thing then they will ask you to help them with a hundred others, unless you set clear boundaries in place from the get-go.
Expect accountability- Always expect accountability. Always. From both individuals and from organizations. As far as organizations are concerned, there is really no excuse for a lack of accountability. Don’t even bother with those who fail in this matter. There is always a reason why they aren’t transparent, and you don’t want to get caught in that. When giving to an individual, don’t lower your standards on this either. Expect them to be accountable as well. One of my good Haitian friends understands the value of being accountable. After receiving a large donation from a group of Americans to build his house he knew he needed to show his gratitude and also how the money was spent. When the Americans came on their next trip he hosted the whole team over to his house for a tour, and then served them dinner straight from his grill as a thank you. My friend is one of a kind, however. This kind of accountability is not the norm in Haiti. And to get it, you often have to go out of your way, which is why I will end with my last suggestion.
Give through trustworthy organizations- There are so many amazing organizations in Haiti doing amazing things. There is no need to reinvent the wheel on giving down here. Find an organization that you are passionate about and partner with them. Give through them. Trust their expertise on ground. Follow their advice. And don’t overstep where they already serve. For example, there are plenty of organizations who focus on community development, job creation, and empowering locals. There is nothing more harmful to these organizations than when teams come down, enter their communities, and start giving hand-outs. Why would anyone want to learn how to work if someone will come give them what they need for free? Before you go anywhere and do anything, check so see who is already working there and how you can partner with them rather than going at it alone.
Again, this list isn’t exhaustive. My suggestions by no means fix the problem, but they are at least a good place for all of us to start. There will always be people like the boy I visited in the prison and the pastor he worked with. As long as foreigners continue to come to Haiti, people like this will continue to try to take advantage. Am I saying to stop coming? By no means. But by refusing to give hand-outs, doing your research, expecting accountability, and working through trustworthy organizations, we can stop giving people like this leverage.
If you have any other suggestions or protocols that you follow when giving in Haiti, I’d love to hear. Please share in the comments below.