I've been nominated for the infamous ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. I shall do it, but I will not be donating to ALS (wrong country, and Motor Neuron Disease is just as terrible here in the UK as in America, so I shall donate to the British version).
I will not be doing another charity drive like it. Why?
What puts me off many charities
A strong argument can be made that the Ice Bucket Challenge has done a lot of good to raise awareness of the disease, a charity to help tackle it, and to generate (huge) amounts of money (much for ALS, and much for other charities as people have changed 'the rules' for the challenge over time). All of that is good. But I can't condone the tactics used to do it – peer pressure and chain-letter style tactics aren't a good thing, and I am skeptical about a lot of charities for how they will use donations.
Sounds a bit crass doesn't it.
What if I told you the ALS charity is right now trying to get the phrase "Ice Bucket Challenge" trade marked? Not only is that a bit of a scum-bag move (and likely pointless once this trend has waned), how do you think the charity is funding the lawyers to do this? With your money. Was that what you intended to help achieve when you donated? To help them put in place a legal protection of a generic phrase so the charity are able to stop other people using it to do good for other causes?
This sort of misuse of a donation is hardly unique. Having known people with close ties to charities and working in fields for scientific research into diseases, I know that a lot of donation money is used for things far from what most people expect. Read the small print of things like "buy a water filtration system for Kenya" and you'll sometimes find that's not what will happen at all; that's just 'a suggested use of the donation'. I do know that some charities fly staff first class to conferences. Earn big salaries. Have dubious advertising strategies. Fund glittery office expansions. And now, trade mark phrases, apparently. To be very clear; not all charities are like that. But I've heard enough often enough from enough people to make me wary.
So, unless I do a lot of research into specific charities, I can't be sure my money will be used as I would want.
What I'm doing instead
I've had a look around at my options for helping people. I've settled on Kiva, and I'll tell you why. Kiva allows you to make donations to specific people with specific needs. Those specific people also have specific plans for what they'll do with the money. I can be pretty sure that what I give will be used for what I expect it will.
Another great benefit of Kiva is that it is about helping people to help themselves. Because while I say 'donation', it's actually a loan. Kiva is solving the problem of how to get loans to people in communities that don't have the normal methods, like banks, because of a lack of robust infrastructure and shaky economies. These people are already trying to better themselves, their families, their communities. They just need help to get there. They can then pay that help back and be proud that they have done it all themselves. I can think of no better empowerment.
Kiva makes no money, it charges no interest – its running costs are paid for by charitable donations from loaners. It's likely (but not certain) I'll be paid back on the majority of my loans; and I could then take that money back for myself. I will much more likely re-invest it into further Kiva loans. I intend to treat it as a donation for my part.
Today, I've helped a woman in Kenya buy a motorbike so that she can take the produce from her small farm to the market over very poor roads. She'll then be better able to make money to support herself and her children.
I intend to make monthly loans whenever I can afford to, and if you have the means I'd encourage you to consider doing similar.
I would also like to find a charity which works to provide a high quality secular education to children in developing countries; but I do not know of one. If you do, please let me know via Twitter, where I am @mattwilcox.