Redefining Aid: Dysfunctional Generosity


Written by Bertrhude Albert, Ph.D. - CEO//P4H Global 

Too often victims of natural disasters also become victims of unwanted, detrimental donations. Whether it’s Houston or Haiti, we can be quick to send clothes, canned foods, and other supplies without understanding the true needs of hurting communities. I call this Dysfunctional Generosity, and it’s a troubling dichotomy that plagues the world of charity. Generosity that highlights the givers impulses more than the true needs of hurting communities is inherently dysfunctional.

During my first mission trip to Haiti, I was guilty of Dysfunctional Generosity. After the 2010 earthquake, I brought over 300lbs of clothes and supplies to affected areas, without researching the true needs of the community. At the end of my week in Haiti leaders in the community showed me how detrimental my aid was. It was a humbling experience. Prior to my trip, I spent months collecting supplies for this community. I went above and beyond to show my countrymen that I would go to any length to help them recover. Ironically, the main thing they wanted was to be acknowledged and asked about the community's needs. It was easy for me to give with my heart, but when it came to giving with my mind, I opted out.

Unfortunately, the mistake I made is common. Last week Hurricane Harvey ravaged Houston and victims are now faced with salvaging broken pieces of their lives. Sadly, well-intentioned donors have been adding to the devastation by shipping useless supplies to the affected area. Humanitarians call this the “second disaster”. The “second disaster” has the potential to be more detrimental to long-term development than natural disasters.

We, as donors, must do better. We must set a new standard for our generosity. We must Redefine Aid. Don’t get me wrong, feeling deep sorrow for others is beautiful, and virtuous, and good, but our feelings must be channeled into intentional compassion or it can become dangerous. Being well-informed in our giving can’t be optional, it must be a bare minimum. So, what does this mean? How can we make sure we don’t become guilty of Dysfunctional Generosity? Here are a few questions we should ask ourselves before shipping off our old T-shirts or clicking the “Donate” button.

1. Have I researched the actual needs of the hurting community?
2. Is it better for me to give money rather than supplies? 
3. Is there a reputable nonprofit that is meeting actual needs? 
4. Does the nonprofit I want to donate to have a track record of connecting relief efforts to sustainable, long-term development efforts?

We are on the verge of experiencing the strongest storm to come out of the Atlantic in 12 years, Hurricane Irma. By the end of this week there may be devastation, destruction, and despair on Irma’s projected path. At that point, we all will have the power to make an impact with our generosity. The question is, will our impact be helpful or detrimental?