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The incidence of fund raisers from NGOs making calls soliciting donations is becoming increasingly common. Unless the NGO is well known, the prospective donor is often uncertain of whether the NGO is legitimate and / or worthy of receiving donations. There are few mechanisms, like rating agencies, available.

So how does a person who is not from the development world ascertain that the NGO deserves money?

Here are some tips.

1. Ask the caller questions like

  • How and where will my donation be deployed? You are looking for what work the NGO does. 
  • Is there any specific group that you will be supporting? If so, which? You are looking for focus. You are also looking for whether they exclude someone based on religion / ethnicity / caste / gender etc.
  • How will I know that it has been used in that manner; what reports (or information) will I get? You are asking for accountability mechanisms.
  • What is your  individual donor base (people donating)? You are checking if they reach out to individuals. 
  • How many of these are regular donors? (people who donate over and over again)You are looking for satisfied donors.
  • Would I be able to visit one of your project sites?  You are checking if they are open to a visit.
  • Who will send me a receipt for my donation?  When will I get it?

Even if the caller is not able to answer all your questions, see if there is a willingness to call back and clarify. 

2.  Also visit their website. While there look for

  • concrete examples / project of actions taken (if they only exist on paper you will know)
  • areas in which projects are run (geography as well as what development sectors)
  • who their main donors are (a good transparent NGO will have these details on their site)

If you are satisfied with the response, go ahead and donate. Else refuse clearly and ask to be taken off their database. 

A caveat is needed here: I think that in all fairness you should do this ONLY if you are considering a substantial donation.  Else you are just being a pain. This is why:

Even if one acknowledges that every bit of donation helps, we must remember that there are costs associated with managing donations. These are primarily around accounting for them – issuing receipts, maintaining records of every donation, reporting back to donors to ensure accountability, reporting to government etc.

Most of the time these costs are nearly the same whether the donation is £1 or £100,000. Accepting small donations may mean that many a time, administration costs outweigh, the donation amount. Not only does it make no sense to the receiver, but also upsets donors who want most of the money to reach the poor. This is a no-win situation for the NGO and hence there will be a reluctance to accept small donations. This does not happen with small coins being shoved into ‘donation boxes’ in temples, churches or museums. Those can be collectively accounted for lending economies of scale.