Recently I got an invitation on facebook to participate in a fundraiser. With my own fundraiser going on right now to raise money for my trip, I'm pretty strapped for cash. However, the beneficiaries of this fundraiser caught my eye: street children in Africa. So I decided to investigate.
I don't really know the person who sent me the invitation, other than she sells items from a catalog business as a way to help support her family, and, I assume, be a stay at home mom. This company caters almost exclusively to women, and they make bags. And keychains, I think. To be truthful, I find their products to be incredibly overpriced. I don't really care to pay more than $5 for a lunchbox, let alone $30 something, and no one has yet to convince me that these products are better than something I can get for myself at, say, Target. They're not fair trade, or don't have a catchy selling point, like items made by groups like Free Set or Market Haiti. They're just stuff. Overpriced stuff marketed to women, particularly moms, who like things to match and be made of pretty fabric and have monograms.
This individual was using her business to do this fundraiser for street children in Africa. I know that sometimes, the ladies who sell these items can do fundraising "parties", where a portion of sales during a specific time or using a specific code go toward a cause. This isn't the case here, though. At least, that's not what the fundraising page said. No, it appears that customers are being asked to pay $20 to purchase a drawstring bag from this company, and those bags will then be delivered to the children. That's it. Just a simple bag. A similar bag could be purchased at Walmart for just a few dollars, but because of the label on this particular bag (which was probably made by the same people in Bangladesh that make the bags for Walmart), it costs $20. And that's not money that's going to the children, or the ministry that is trying to help them. No. That's money that's going to the person hosting the fundraiser, and the company that gives her the method to sell the bags. Again, this is the way it was explained on her fundraising page (to paraphrase, "buy a bag for a street boy in this country") so I don't feel like I'm taking liberties with the truth here.
Those of you who know me would not be surprised to learn that I am very picky about the charitable contributions, for lack of a more applicable term, that I am willing to make. It's not out of stinginess- my bank statements, embarrassing though they may be in other ways, do not show a Scrooge-like attitude from myself and my husband. Rather, I want my money, or any goods I donate, to be used wisely and in a way that's helpful. For example, when I learned that Goodwill pays its disabled employees a tiny percentage of the minimum wage, because of loopholes, I stopped donating my household items to them. It's better for me to take a trip to a less convenient location, such as a local Christian mission that has a thrift store, because that place pays fair wages and treats its employees with dignity and respect.
I am choosing not to participate in this particular fundraiser because I don't think that buying a $20 drawstring bag is really doing much good for the kids who would eventually receive it. Would a drawstring bag be useful to a child living on the streets in a developing nation? Probably. But am I really being the best steward of my money by spending $20 on a single bag for one child? Would I really be acting in the best interest of the children I was trying to help? Probably not. In my personal opinion, it would be far more productive, and financially wise, to donate a portion of the proceeds of a sale period to the ministry that would be handing out the bags (or any other item), rather than spend a pretty crazy amount of money on one. Hey, maybe the ministry, which is located in the country in question, could use the money to purchase local bags for the kids, thus stimulating the local economy (and stretching their dollars further!)
Being invited to participate in this fundraiser got me thinking. I want to share with the lovely folks who read this blog my reasons for not donating (or "purchasing" might be a more accurate term.) I admire this individual for wanting to help, and I don't really blame those who do purchase bags from her to be sent to the kids. But I do need you to know- there is a better way to help. If you want to do good in the world, if you want to help a child living in poverty, if you want to support a ministry that is trying to make the world a better place, purchasing an overpriced ditty bag and then handing it off to someone who is not only living in abject poverty, but is homeless, is just not the way to do it. I need you to understand what else that $20 could be doing. For one thing, it really could help the ministry that is trying to make a positive impact in that city and country. In the country in question, the highest denomination of paper money is only worth about $6 and chance in US dollars. The ministry could use that money for supplies, outreach, or even employing a local person. You couldn't even buy dinner for two at an inexpensive sit-down restaurant for $20 here in the US- but in an area where families, when they are able to find employment as farmers and sellers in the market, make an average of $7 a month? You could feed a family of four for a few weeks!
I had the idea to reach out to the Compassion sponsor community and ask them what their kids have been able to buy with the small financial gifts they send, just for some perspective. In case you are unfamiliar with the way financial gifts work, sponsors have the opportunity to send money to their kids for birthdays, Christmas, or any other occasion. They can also send family gifts as well. Staff members who know the kids and their families help them decide what to purchase with the money that arrives- it stimulates the local economy and ensures that they receive exactly what they need (or want, as is often the case with birthday gifts.) There are limitations on how much can be sent annually, to make things a little more fair, and also to protect the families who may live in a more dangerous area. Anyway, I asked several sponsors to give me some examples of things their kids had been able to get with small financial gifts- usually between $10 and $30. I've included a few examples from my own sponsor kids, too. You'll find them below, in a piece I'd like to call....
31 Other Ways to Help
- $20 bought bedsheets, sugar, rice, school uniforms, and new shoes for a family in Tanzania
- $10 bought shoes, socks, pants and a shirt for a child in India
- $10 bought new shoes for a child in Bolivia
- And another $10 bought new pants and a shirt
- $10 bought a shirt, three pairs of socks and underwear for a child in Guatemala
- $25 bought pants, three shirts, underwear and socks for another Guatemalan child
- $10 bought a new outfit for a child in the Philippines
- $10 bought a shirt and a skirt for a little girl in Ghana
- $10 bought a shirt, underwear, and socks for a child in Nicaragua
- $10 bought a goat for a family in Haiti
- $25 bought new clothes for a girl in India, who made a point to say that without this birthday gift each year, she couldn't get "pretty dresses"
- $15 got a sweater, school supplies, and a treat of cookies for a girl in Ecuador
- $20 bought a boy in India a study desk for his birthday
- $20 bought a small pig for a family in Rwanda
- $15 bought a mosquito net, clothes, and a lamp for a family in Bangladesh
- $30 bought a sewing machine for a young woman in India
- $20 bought a table and chairs for a family in India
- $20 bought a backpack, new shoes and a school uniform for a child in Bolivia
- $15 bought a child in Kenya a dress and a mattress
- $25 bought a door and a window for a family in Rwanda
- $10 bought a new shirt, new shoes, and a soccer ball for a child in Tanzania
- $10 bought a uniform, books, and school supplies for a boy in Kenya
- $10 bought crayons, a pencil sharpener, erasers, glue, pencils, notebooks, and stickers for a little boy in Mexico
- $20 bought school shoes for a boy in Ecuador
- $25 bought tennis shoes, an outfit, and a school bag for a boy in El Salvador
- $10 bought clothes and rice for a girl in Indonesia
- $10 bought a dress for a girl in Haiti
- $40 bought new shoes, a shirt and jeans for a young lady in Bolivia
- $34 bought two pairs of pants and two shirts for a boy in El Salvador
- $15 bought a new school uniform and shoes for a girl in Thailand
- $10 bought school books for a boy in Peru
If you're ever faced with an opportunity (or sales pitch) to "help" people in other countries by buying a product that will be sent to them, I hope that you will keep these examples in mind. We think we're doing a nice thing by spending our American dollars on a product from an American company, and sending it to someone else. But instead of thinking in American terms, where $20 would buy a birthday gift that would be considered relatively inexpensive and rather modest, try to get into the mindset of a Tanzanian, or a Peruvian, or an Indonesian, or whomever you are trying to help. Think about what that amount of money could do to improve their lives, rather than making the decision for them about what they "need." I'm not saying that Compassion is the only worthy organization to distribute gifts to children, I just wanted to use my experience with them (and the experience of others) to illustrate a point. If you take anything away from this post, I hope you will just try to be mindful in your giving, and maybe appreciate the value of a dollar a little more.