by Peter Tan. Posted on August 30, 2014, Saturday
MALAYSIANS are generous people. We give to the homeless. We give to beggars. We organise fund collections for victims of natural disasters and conflicts.
The fact that most charities in the country survive largely on donations alone is proof of that.
We give without a second thought of where, how or what the money will be used for. As long as we have donated, we walk away contented, believing we have played our part in making a difference.
While having a drink at a food court with a friend, a man approached us and flashed a well-worn folder full of pictures of disabled children and what appeared to be documents with official government letterheads.
He was polite in telling us he was running a home for the children in another state and appealed for a donation to keep the place running.
My friend fished out RM10 from his pocket and gave it the man who thanked him profusely and moved on to the next table.
When I asked my friend if he was familiar with the charity he just donated to, this was his reply: “I gave with my heart. If he cheated me, let him bear the sin.”
I explained to my friend that donating to dubious charities reduces the amount we can donate to bona fide ones. He was adamant that it was not his concern how the money would be used after he had given it away.
I left the conversation at that, not wanting to get into an argument with him.
In contrast, I am more cautious when it comes to donating money.
Giving to people who have less than us is noble but that does not mean that we should support any and every charity that comes our way asking for money.
I have been following several cash-rich and fixed asset-rich organisations that are still actively appealing for money to fund projects or for the acquisitions of more properties to run programmes for disabled people.
My beef with them is that the amount of donations they collected was never revealed and there was no accountability on how the money was spent.
What they did reveal were the millions of ringgit they needed to kick off the initiatives.
There was one that had asked for donations to run an enablement project for disabled people. When it fell through for not getting the required approvals from the authorities, there was no mention of how the money collected would be used.
I have no issue giving to charities that strive to be self-sustaining. The programmes that they run must enable and empower the target groups to become self-sustaining too where possible.
The age-old proverb, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime” is still sensible advice today.
Ideally, the donations disbursed to target groups should create more value than the seed amount. In reality, a large portion is usually used for administrative expenses rather than the purpose it was intended to support.
It is not easy to find out the ratio of administrative expenditure versus disbursement unless divulged by the organisations. As such, I only contribute to those with office bearers whom I am familiar with and trust.
As a rule of thumb, these organisations should either be registered with the Registrar of Societies as an association or the Companies Commission of Malaysia as a non-profit company limited by guarantee.
Be wary of people who solicit for donations at markets and food courts like the one my friend and I encountered. Such activities require a permit from the authorities, which they usually cannot produce when requested.
It is better to visit the organisation’s registered address to make a donation. This will ensure the money goes directly to where it was intended. Among the charities that I wholeheartedly support are the hospice associations, disability rights organisations and animal welfare groups.
The hospice provides palliative care for people with life-limiting conditions. I was greatly touched by their support, which alleviated a lot of doubts and uncertainties in the last few weeks of my mother’s life.
As a disability rights advocate, I am selective of the disabled people’s organisations that I support. They must work on rights based issues. I absolutely abhor those that use images of disabled people in undignified situations to muster sympathy for fundraising purposes.
Animal welfare groups are often overburdened by too many pets abandoned by irresponsible owners. I believe that these animals deserve a second chance at life. My wife and I donate whenever we can.
Our money set aside for donations is finite. We should give judiciously to where it will be used to create the greatest impact. No matter how big or small the amount, it is always wise to research their activities and expenditure before parting with our money.
There are many fraudsters out there. Nevertheless, do not let that deter you from donating. Give to charities that are truly deserving. It will change the life of someone somewhere for the better.
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