When disaster strikes, individuals and governments often step up to help those who require support and strength from around the world. This is the human spirit of charity in action, and helping to facilitate it is what gets me going in the morning.
The earthquake in Nepal is a tragedy of immense proportions, and the level of despair, pain and loss the Nepalese people are experiencing is unfathomable. Reacting to this disaster is perfectly appropriate. But it’s important to take the time to understand how giving as a reaction to tragedy can affect the charitable sector, particularly when incentives are offered.
Canadian Government Donations Match
For many people, charity is most often a visceral response to a tragedy. It’s a reaction to as opposed to a position from which they operate. And when we give instantly and reactively, we can miss the fine print around donating that may affect the charities we’re trying to help.
For example, in the case of earthquake relief for Nepal, the Canadian government has pledged to match donations to registered Canadian charities. To donors whose visceral reaction is to give, this seems great. And it’s been backed up by the media, the general public and even charity representatives who have all promoted the match.
What hasn’t been promoted is the fact that there are many restrictions around the matching funds -- both for potential donors and for potential recipients. For example, public and private foundations (which collectively control over $10 billion in charitable assets) aren’t eligible to give, and neither are corporations -- only individuals. Added to that is the fact that the match isn’t actually going to the charity individuals choose to give to, but rather to the government’s own fund. And only if the charities receiving donations from individuals declare them to the government by June 12. But declaring them doesn’t mean they actually receive the matching money. They then have to apply to the government for these funds.
Later this year, Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada will accept proposals from its “international humanitarian and non-governmental partners responding to the earthquake according to established channels and procedures,” and it will allocate the matching funds to charities it chooses. It’s a lot of administrative hoops for charities receiving donations from eager-to-help Canadians. And it’s possible those charities -- especially the smaller ones -- won’t see a penny of the matching funds.
So if your giving is motivated by the government matching funds, you should be aware of the extensive donation criteria.
Making Charity Part of Everyday Life
Of course, it isn’t that Canadians shouldn’t give in response to this incredible tragedy. And it’s not that the people of Nepal won’t get value from the Canadian government's matching gift, or that the match criteria are terrible, or the lack of transparency unforgivable.
It’s just that the government’s restricted offering, and the media reports that only tell half the story highlight the difficulties faced by a charitable sector that remains to most a reaction to crisis and not a product of a long-term, well-thought-out giving strategy.
So give to help Nepal, absolutely. And continue to react with generosity to local and global tragedies. But let’s also work together to consider how to build thoughtful giving into our everyday lives, so that whether or not tragedy strikes, we know where and how to give to charities doing the hard work in our communities and around the world day in and day out.
Want to give to charities making an impact on the ground now in Nepal? Check out our Nepal donation guide.
Photo credit: Jessica Lea/DFID