Why I Give

Since I’ve started my Erin Goes Global trek — about 14 months now – I’ve made 44 grants from the GoErinGo! Fund. Of these 44 donations, there is only one I don’t feel good about. A combination of factors made me unenthusiastic about (I wouldn’t say regret) my giving decision.

I made the donation more than 4 months ago and have been thinking about it since. In general, I feel that the organization had broken the implicit promise between donors and organizations. As donors, we trust that the organization will steward the donation faithfully.

In particular, here’s why the donation was spoiled for me:

1) The in-country staff of the NGO asked me for money for his personal use. He asked me for reimbursement for incidental expenses like the phone calls he made. He also invited his friend to dinner and ran up the tab while passing me the bill. After that I took him aside and told him that his actions were inappropriate. He apologized, but still he was not a good representative of the organization.

2) When I made the public presentation of the award, the head of the community, instead of thanking me, asked me for more money. Granted it is hard for foreign NGOS to control the behavior of the final recipients, but nevertheless, it left a bad taste in my mouth. I also didn’t appreciate the jokes about rich American donors.

3) I raised my concerns to the founder of the NGO because I think it’s important that he know I had an unsatisfactory giving experience. He promptly apologized, but then called me the next day to say he’d refund my donation since I wasn’t happy, adding that they didn’t need the funding anyway.

Obviously my intention was never to renege on my donation (in fact, I had already given in full by this point) but hearing that my donation wasn’t valued was adding insult to injury. This misguided gesture made a bad situation even worse.

The founder did do me one favor. During our conversation he asked why I was disappointed if the end recipients received the funded project – wasn’t that the real reason why I had given? To help the community that needed it?

I thought this was a fair question, one I hadn’t asked myself. So I’ve been spending some time thinking about my personal giving motivations.

My Motivations for Giving

In my fundraising seminars, I always talk about the importance of knowing the motivations of your donor. Giving a donation is a very personal and complex decision. The desire to “help others” is obviously part of the giving equation, but there are more factors – personal thoughts on charitable giving – that help motivate a person to give.

Up until this point, I hadn’t really spent the time to discern my own motivations as a donor. And so I put some thought into it. Here’s what I’m looking for as a donor:

  1. Good Work. I want to truly believe that the organization is helping its constituents and providing vital services.
  2. Effective Management. I want the organization and the donation to be stewarded properly.
  3. Funding Need. I want to give where the donation is needed.


I think the organization I gave to fell short on 2 of these 3 motivations for me, and that is why I was unhappy with the donation.

Refocused Giving

This situation also led me to think about which organizations I was happy to support in the past and why. And I identified two in particular:

Ethiopian Women’s Lawyers Association: EWLA helps fight for women’s rights in Ethiopia. I didn’t give a donation to this organization before, but spent several days providing pro bono development work and a written fundraising plan. The GoErinGo! Fund will give a $1,000 donation.

Lubashi: Based in Zambia, this organization helps provide shelter and education for girls who have been raped and abused while they are awaiting the perpetrator’s trial. I initially gave a $250 grant to this organization and will give another grant of $1,000.

In the end, I’m no longer unhappy because I think the situation provided me with a valuable lesson and an opportunity to give to organizations that I, as a donor, truly value. It gives me great joy to be able to make additional grants to EWLA and Lubashi.

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, February 8th, 2012 and is filed under The Giving Guide.

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