by Emily Huang

In 2016, the American Red Cross made headlines across the nation after an investigation by Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley revealed that $125 million of the donations made after the Haiti earthquake in 2010 went to fund internal expenses. According to NPR, “the venerated charity raised nearly $500 million after the disaster, more than any other nonprofit, but an ambitious plan to build housing resulted in just six permanent homes.” While shocking to the public, this scandal is just one of the many incidents over the years of philanthropic organizations misusing funds. How much of this money truly goes towards enacting positive change overseas? Are Americans working to tackle the roots of international affairs, or are they simply fostering a dependency from other countries on the United States as another avenue for cash flow?

In 2015, Giving USA, a publication reporting on the sources and uses of charitable giving in the United States, reported that Americans donated a total of $15.75 billion towards support for the resolution of international issues. This figure marked a 17.5 percent increase in charitable contributions towards global affairs and had many institutes boasting about citizens’ generosity and sensitivity towards foreign countries. While monetary donations may seem like extremely beneficial actions in principle, allocating resources and executing projects using those resources are pivotal to the effectiveness of addressing key global issues. The problem is two-fold. Without having a clear understanding of an organization’s goals and action plan, citizens cannot achieve the greatest impact with their resources on underprivileged countries. As the Red Cross scandal demonstrates, donors should be aware of how their money is being used. Further, philanthropic organizations that simply provide money to underprivileged countries without understanding where their issues originate may ultimately do more harm than good. Many times, inducing change in economic, political, or social arenas requires a significant number of stakeholders and government initiatives. Using money to address problems overseas may help mitigate their effects, but it may ultimately distract from efforts to eliminate the heart of the issues.

As a supporter, there are several ways to combat these issues. Firstly, it is important to be conscious of where the money is being allocated towards. If possible, donators should research an organization’s conduct and records before deciding on whether or not to support their efforts. Secondly, should beneficiaries have specific problems or countries that they would like to address, they should put effort into understanding how they originated and who is involved. For example, if a potential donor were interested in tackling pollution, it may be more impactful to participate in lobbying or campaigning rather than providing monetary support. Finally, patrons should collectively seek to keep organizations accountable for their mission statements. This can be accomplished by following up with campaign leaders and discussing their progress in addressing issues overseas. By being more proactive and informed, citizens will have a better chance of donating their resources to efficient and effective projects.

Overall, the use of monetary philanthropy to solve global issues is a complex action that requires a significant amount of scrutiny. By having a clear understanding of the underlying causes of these issues and becoming familiar with the missions of charitable organizations, citizens can have a more direct and impactful effect on resolving these problems.

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