“For those that want to contribute monetarily, there are a number of credible non-governmental organizations (NGOs) doing a yeoman’s job out there. … Their websites are easily accessible. Make sure you indicate the monies are specifically for the ‘Night Commuters’ of Gulu, otherwise the contributions could get lost in some huge, bureaucratic blackhole.”
— CNN’s Jeff Koinange, “Old Horrors, Young Victims (Part II)” on the Anderson Cooper 360° blog, March 1
A note to Jeff Koinange, on behalf of his readers in the United States: I understand your point here, Jeff, but your choice of words does a disservice to the nonprofit sector. True, a donation that isn’t earmarked by a donor for a specific program will be treated as an unrestricted gift — that means it could go toward any of the organization’s programs or overall mission. Since Sept. 11, 2001, nonprofits have become even more vigilant about using program-specific dollars for the programs for which they were specified.
It does not mean that non-earmarked donations will get lost in “some huge, bureaucratic blackhole” — at least not at most U.S. organizations. That gives the impression that nonprofits play fast and loose with the monies they collect. And that’s just not the way it is.
Much has been written about Doctors Without Borders USA/Médecins Sans Frontières’ bold move to stop accepting tsunami-related donations just days after that devastating event and encouraging donors instead to give unrestricted gifts to fund other important MSF programs. It might have been easier and more lucrative for MSF to simply continue to rake in the cash and then just use it wherever it saw fit. But it would have been ethically questionable — and MSF was quick to recognize that.
It’s no secret that fraud and mismanagement exist in the nonprofit sector around the world, but it’s the rare exception — certainly not the norm. Accountability, transparency and proper stewardship are the “business practices” that drive today’s nonprofits.
In a time when government is turning an increasingly blind eye to its citizens’ needs, it’s the nonprofit organizations that are stepping up to help. The media, indeed, needs to play a tough, watchdog role in outing miscreant and/or poorly run groups. But it needs to be equally as vigilant in not undermining the public’s trust in the sector as a whole by propagating unfortunate stereotypes.