News & CommentaryArchive
Nov 13, 2009
The Source of Donor Illusions
David Roodman pointed me to a typical reaction post to the Kiva story. In summary, the authors lament the lack of direct connection to a specific person they can give to and wonder why they can’t just dispense with the intermediaries.
I think the post is quite revelatory about why so many charities create the illusion of direct connection. They do so because donors demand it.
The demand for direct connection is baffling to me since most donors absolutely refuse direct connection to the people in need that are closest to them. Consider: how often do you or your friends take advantage of the opportunity to give directly and establish a connection by giving $20 to the guy standing at the corner with the cardboard sign saying, “Will Work for Food”?
I’ll bet the answer is “never.“ And there’s a very good reason for that. You believe that to actually help that person you should give the money to a knowledgeable intermediary like a homeless shelter that will do the research to understand this person’s situation, and ensure the money you give is actually used in a responsible way.
So if you would only give to an intermediary in order to help someone on the street outside your home, why do you want to do away with intermediaries between you and a person on the other side of the world whose circumstances you don’t understand at all?
I just don’t get it.
In the end I guess the donor demand really is for an illusion. They don’t just want connection—what they want is the illusion of connection where they can feel directly connected but not actually have to be directly connected—with all the messiness that such connections would entail—to people in need.