But when we donate to charities, what are we buying? And at what cost? That’s more difficult — indeed, it’s often impossible — to know. So how, then, can we compare charities, the way we compare Cheerios to Wheaties, Starbucks to Dunkin’ Donuts or an iPhone to a Samsung Galaxy?
Alas, we can’t.
This makes it harder than it should be to steer our donations to the nonprofits that do the most good.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about this question of costs. (Please see below: I would love to hear from readers about this.) Recently, I had the opportunity to discuss it with a couple of staff members at a global federation of nonprofits called WaterAid. Sarah Dobsevage is director of strategic partnerships at WaterAid America and Vincent Casey is senior WASH (which stands for water, sanitation and hygiene) advisor at WaterAid International in London. WaterAid is a global federation of nonprofits that collects money in rich countries and spends most of it in 38 poor countries, working with local governments and nonprofits to “transform the lives of the poorest and most marginalized people by improving access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene.”
As I’ve written before (see my 2015 blogpost, Water Taps and Information Gaps), there are dozens, perhaps hundreds, of charities that provide water and sanitation to the poor. Among those listed at GuideStar are charity: water, water.org, Water for People, Bread and Water for Africa, Living Water International, Millenium Water Alliance, One Drop Foundation, World Help, and Water is Life. Big anti-poverty NGOs including Care, Catholic Relief Services, Save the Children and WorldVision operate their own WASH programs. They’re funded by governments, foundations, companies and the rest of us.
The problem for anyone who wants to support providing water and sanitation to the poor is figuring out which nonprofits are effective and efficient. Can transparency around pricing help solve that problem? Or, paradoxically, could pricing get in the way of smarter giving?