Tuesday, January 19, 2010


It took me a good 24-48 hours last week to decide to which relief organization to send a donation to contribute to the effort in Haiti after the quake.

Of course I pay each year an annual fee to several humanitarian and development NGOs. But with the extra contribution I wanted to make for Haiti I must say that I was a bit overwhelmed by so many different calls for donation. In the last week, there has been Haiti fundraising appeals on virtually each and every page of some of the newspapers I read, let alone Internet fundraising. The design and logos are different (somewhat) on each fundraising drive (the bank account numbers too), but most of the time it's hard to distinguish one proposition from another. Actually, it probably does not matter too much, as long as one is sufficiently well informed to avoid the charlatans.

This initial dilemma reminded me of a couple of Power Point slides I'm using at the begining of one of the sessions of the Advocacy Training course I give to NGOs and foundations. Two slides: first I show photos of the campaigns (messaging) of two NGOs well known in the area of development/aid and two NGOs well known in the area of environment/ecology; and then I show photos of two cars, a Fiat and a Renault respectively. It's hard to spot the difference between a Fiat and a Renault, and it's almost equally hard to spot the difference between the NGOs in their respective fields.

I do that to emphasize that for a layperson not deeply involved or rooted in activism or policy, it's very difficult to make a difference (i.e. to choose) between two NGOs acting in the same sphere. Activists often tend to forget that (details of style and culture apart) the membership wants to contribute more or less to the same thing regardless of whether they've joined NGO Y or NGO X. Very much like with a Fiat and a Renault: with both you can go from A to B at more or less the same speed for more or less the same price (and more or less the same cost to the environment if they're maintained in similar conditions). The reason why one chooses a Fiat or a Renault has little to do with the main function of the cars; it's got more to do with details such as design, accessories, branding, accessibility and visibility of the local dealer, etc. And the reason why one chooses between NGO Y or NGO X is often not very different. This says a lot in favour of campaigns ran by NGO coalitions, buses and trains.

Finally I did send last week my Haiti donation to one of the reliable flagships of global humanitarian action. But to be fair, I won't tell you whether I chose Fiat or Renault.

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