ASU Lodestar Center Blog

Current nonprofit sector research and recommendations for effective day-to-day practice from ASU faculty, staff, students, and the nonprofit and philanthropic community.

Friday, March 30, 2012 - 9:05am


posted by
 Karina Lungo,
Research Aide,
ASU Lodestar Center

Welcome to Research Friday! As part of a continuing weekly series, each Friday we invite a nonprofit expert to highlight current research reports or studies and discuss how they can inform and improve day-to-day nonprofit practice.

"Why should I support the rest of the world when there is so much need in my own country?" is a question I often hear people ask. In fact, though the U.S. is a rich country and, as of 2011, ranks as the most generous nation in the world,1 only five percent of its charitable giving goes to international causes.2

I am a student in the Master of Nonprofit Studies program at Arizona State University and work for the ASU Lodestar Center. As I become more immersed in the nonprofit world, I learn more about dilemmas in philanthropy; questions like: "where will my contribution have the most impact?"  Or, "how can I be certain my money will be used adequately?" While it is true that donors should inform themselves and balance their options carefully before contributing, I also believe that when it comes to giving, you should listen to your "gut feeling": that voice from your heart telling you where to help.

Here are three simple reasons why your "heart" may tell you to give to international causes:

1. To meet more basic needs with fewer dollars: Indeed, a dollar contributed to international causes reaches much further when spent in developing countries. For the extremely poor, who manage to live on an income of $1.25 or less per day, every dollar makes a tremendous difference. Poverty in these countries is defined as falling short of food, not being able to send children to school, having limited or no access to safe drinking water, living in unstable houses and, perhaps worse, feeling powerless as the conflicting or corrupted governments don’t offer any means to get out of poverty3. In some countries, $100 can send a child to school for a whole year or feed an entire family for one month.

2. To invest in a world of equal opportunities: In addition to helping meet basic needs, you may also want to invest in a better, more equitable future for all. Inequality is driving the immigration of many people from poor countries to richer countries. Around 40 million foreign-born immigrants live in the U.S., making up 13 percent of its population. Over 75,000 refugees came to the U.S. in 2010 alone.4 And the fact is that people who immigrate from poor to rich countries tend to be the risk-takers, the fighters, the ones with a strong motivation to make a better future for themselves and their families. They are entrepreneurs, even in places that don’t always welcome them with open arms, they accomplish a lot. Imagine what they could do, for themselves and their communities, if they had the means and the hope to reach their potential in their own countries. It is the absence of that opportunity that causes poor countries to lose some of their most entrepreneurial people to migration, one of the factors in the vicious cycle that keeps poor countries in poverty.

There are several options today to invest in entrepreneurship, such as microfinancing and cooperatives, that empower individuals to help themselves and build opportunity and hope in their own communities. Catholic Relief Services uses microfinancing to create alternatives to migration, and Solace International, headquartered in Tucson, invests in social entrepreneurship. Other examples are Global Giving, the Skoll Center and Ashoka.

3. International giving can also be tax deductible: The good news is tax benefits are also available for helping globally. In addition to the organizations previously mentioned, in Arizona there are over 300 501(c)(3) charitable organizations with an international focus. Food for the Hungry is the largest, and there are many others, such as Borderlinks and Phoenix Sister Cities.


The beauty of giving is that we can balance our contributions to support many different causes. I am not suggesting giving 100 percent of our contributions to international causes... but what about giving just a little more?

Karina Lungo is a graduate student in the MNpS program at Arizona State University. She has vast international experience since she was born in El Salvador and has lived in California, Arkansas, Mexico, Guatemala, and Arizona while also traveling to several other countries. Today she works for the ASU Lodestar Center as a Research Aide for Arizona Scope of the Sector and Compensation Studies. In her free time she volunteers for several local nonprofit organizations while developing her plan to create a future organization that will target Central American countries.


^ [1] Charities Aid Foundation's (CAF) World Giving Index 2011. <>.

^ [2] "Giving USA 2011" Reports.

^ [3] Singer, Peter. The Life You Can Save: Acting Now to End World Poverty. New York: Random House, 2009. Print.

^ [4] "Migration Information Source." Migration Information Source. 2011. <>.



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Karina, what an insightful post!

Although the argument for focusing on the US and addressing our significant social problems first is a common claim among donors, the value per dollar of donation may yield more impact at the international level. Organizations like Kiva International,, is one way that we can invest in a world of equal opportunities and foster entrepreneurship and community development. As a junior enrolled in Professor Laloggia's capstone and Professor Shockley's social entrepreneurship courses, we have discussed many cases where international causes deliver basic needs and attempt to restore justice.

Great post!

I enjoyed reading your post! I have often debated whether it is best to only support work being done in the United States or Internationally. I think whether you give at home or internationally it’s just important to help a cause. I see why this debate is so prevalent. Your perspective on inequality being the driving force of immigration I had not thought of before, and found it insightful. A lot of great work is being done to promote social entrepreneurship abroad such as Kiva.

I had never truly considered the home countries' loss of entrepreneurial citizens when looking at the refugee and immigration aspects of the global equality issue. I like that you took the black and white perspective of "national vs. international, which is better?" in a different direction; understanding that the overall impact of balanced support to these causes, both nationally and internationally, is more effective than choosing one over the other. In the end, everyone benefits from contributing to the improvement of the global community.

This is a great post and I really enjoyed reading it. As a nonprofit major and sustainability minor at ASU, we have discussed how those who have the potential to actually assist economic growth in developing countries often decide to migrate to more plentiful economies. A great way to promote economic growth is to invest in the economy in order to provide a world of equal opportunity. As you said, this will persuade those who are able to contribute to the community to stay rather than migrate. Wouldn't it even be great if it attracted more individuals from developed countries because of the investment/donor market? Also the fact that the funds are going to assist entrepreneurs. Funds are not just going into the country to supply food, water, shelter, and so on. The funds are actually assisting the community bring themselves out of poverty and really start the economic growth process. All the international sustainability books that I have read support this theory and it has been proven to work most efficiently. I truly believe giving to international aid is very important when donating funds and must continue. I have my US organizations that I am very passionate about and give to while at the same time have my international organizations as well.

Great post and keep up the good work.

Great insights Taylor! As I read your post I thought about the important economic turnarounds that we are seeing in countries such as Panama and Brazil. Back in 2004, Panama was an average country with a market highly dominated by the Panama canal. After an important legislation that was passed around that time, the country has become a major Latin American hub, headquartering multinational corporations and attracting a lot of investors, among them several individuals from developed countries like you mentioned. Brazil is another important country with a major economic growth. What these countries have in common however is governments that are investing in the future of their countries through incentives for private investors (i.e. tax benefits).

But what about the majority of the developing countries that are still "waiting" for a better government? This is where each individual can be empowered to take action in their own countries and be active change agents. Social cooperatives are an example of the change that communities can make for their own countries.

An interesting book that covers the different models of social enterprising in the world is the following: "Kerlin, Janelle A. Social Enterprise: A Global Comparison. Medford, MA: Tufts UP, 2009."

As an international education advocate, I really enjoyed reading this post. I’d like to point out that by giving to organizations such as Phoenix Sister Cities or similar international nonprofits whose mission is education-based, you can help out locally and internationally at the same time. One of the main missions of PSC is to send local high school students abroad and help them more deeply understand a foreign culture. By supporting organizations whose mission includes international education, we can aid foreign communities while also improving our own by having more informed, connected, and well-rounded individuals with diverse perspectives. In my opinion, this is a dollar well spent.

Intriguing topic! It seems that television is inundated with commercials for international support. To be honest, I am probably one of those you spoke about wondering why we don't support more of our own social issues. I think you are right about a dollar going so much further in some of these third world countries. It might also be pointed out that there is also so much room from corruption with these donations in these countries as well. I have learned though that we give with true intent and not to worry about those individuals and groups that abuse the systems set to help others. I think your point of local entrepreneurs leaving is also a valid and critical point. Perhaps more focus should be made to keep these individuals in the country. My advice is to do your research, learn the missions, support those that you believe in and keep doing it.

Heather: thank you for sharing the perspective about supporting organizations that enable young Americans to have international exposure. Activities like this actually initiate a chain of help that can expand much further than individual help sometimes.

Jerad: thank you for your honesty. You mention an important point about why sometimes it is more difficult to contribute to international causes where you don't receive the feedback on how your donation is being used. Trust issues may be an obstacle.
Thank you for the advice about researching the organizations and connecting to the mission because indeed there are several organizations out there who are honest and contributing positively and need more people like us who believe in them to make a difference.

I really appreciate you writing this article, because I often have this mindset. I really like impacting my community, because I can SEE the need here. It is amazing to consider the few dollars I give to organizations internationally could really impact the lives of the people who live there. My hesitation, however, is where does this money actually go? I know that there are laws in the United States that uphold trustworthiness as an important attribute of nonprofits, however, do international nonprofits have this same standard? Seeing the corruption in other countries makes me weary of giving. Any thoughts? Thank you for this article!

Great post! It was a great point to make that donation dollars stretch further in developing nations than they do here. I hadn't really thought of it that way before. Also your point about refugees coming in being the risk-takers and entrepreneurs that their home countries are losing: it's a shame really, that they couldn't stay there and use their talents to improve their countries rather than coming to one of the richest countries in the world and enduring poverty in it. I've volunteered at a refugee-serving non-profit and it troubled me, working in the Employment department, that I was applying for jobs for clients to be dishwashers and janitors when they had college degrees, advanced technical certifications, and experience running their own businesses. These people are clearly overqualified and yet, their only fault was they spoke no English.
It is so important to give to international causes - but simply throwing money at problem like hunger isn't going to solve the problem. I would rather give my money to a micro-finance organization like Kiva, that funds small businessrather than giving to simply feed the poor: obviously feeding them is important, but giving them the tools and skills and education they need to sustain themselves is better.
And while giving to international causes is important, I think is is also important to remember the poor and underprivileged here. Hunger and homelessness feel the same in Arizona as they do in Africa. While donating money may have more financial impact abroad, I would argue that volunteering has more impact locally.

Thank you for posting this and fostering so much conversation among us!

~Chantal Duquette

Lindsay: thanks for your comments. It is true that that not "seeing" the direct impact of our contributions may limit our giving to international causes. I however believe that it is worth to do some research on the cause you may want to support, listen to comments from people who participate in it, request as much material as possible, pictures, newsletters etc. And why not, even consider visiting the country you help to see it with your own eyes - being there changes your perspective completely and there are several "voluntourism" options who connect you with the needy in a very protected environment.

I often times hear this a lot as well. People are somewhat skeptical about donating to other countries because they are not sure if the money is actually going to the cause, whereas if they were to donate to something locally they could see if it was done or not. I saw this quite often when the earthquake in Haiti hit. Everyone was working with some organization to help donate money to those people but some of the organizations seemed sketchy. They were made with homemade boxes and things. I think this gave international donating somewhat of a bad rep. People were not really sure who to trust. I think you are right though about how it all comes from the heart. It is easy to see what is going on in some other country and just donate money if you know it is going to actually help those people. I really like your ideas they shared and they helped me to see a different side to international giving. I thought that people gave a pretty decent amount and thought that the people in America needed more help. I never realized that that could be just a "rumor" going around. I also never realized the amount of benefits that come with donating internationally. Thank you for sharing this!

I am an NLM student at ASU and one of my goals is to create a nonprofit organization to help the children in Honduras. Thanks a lot for talking in your article about some of the reasons why people here in the USA should donate to international organizations. Having been born and raised in a third-world country and being around so many people in need has made me want to do something for the children's education. I think a good education is the only way to help those children get out of the poverty cycle in which they were born.

I definitely agree with your statements. Sometimes in trying to help ourselves and not others we do more harm than good. People are always complaining about others who live in poverty and come to this country for help. That is like laughing at someone who has fallen for trying to get back up, instead of complaining about how their predicament hurts us, we should do something to help them and in the long run help ourselves. I know that ASU is currently granting monies to students from Africa who are willing to come study here and their new knowledge to use back in Africa. By contributing to these organizations, as you encourage us to do, we make the world a better place and it’s not even a huge sacrifice because we get most of it back in the end, something people are unwilling to realize.

This article was very interesting to me. It really is a hard to justify donating to other countries when you feel like your own is in such much turmoil. When you really break down other countries living costs, you realize how blessed you are to be in America. $1.25 wouldn't even cover my morning coffee. We, as Americans, need to be more knowledgeable about the places around us.

I definitely agree on how important it is to be knowledgeable on the subject of giving and being charitable, especially when it comes to giving money to a greater cause. It is so important to focus on ensuring happiness within your life, and when you are in a place to be able to contribute some of the blessings you have received during your lifetime, it is only logical to pass that on. I really liked how you said why your "heart" would want to donate to these international charities. It really is about your heart, and having a heart for the people in the world that do not have as much as you do. I really think that you gave great advice to follow and that should really be something for people to think about when giving money away, looking at how it can benefit the person who is donating the money is also a great way to encourage a donor. A lot of people these days unfortunately want to give things away only if it benefits them in a certain way, but since that is the case it is very important to find ways to reach out to those people as well. One thing I think most people are afraid of when giving their money away is they do not know what and who it is going to so I definitely think it would be awesome to maybe provide some sources on who and where people can go in order to gain information on legitimate organizations. You have definitely influenced me throughout your article to want to look into some organizations that I can be a bigger part of. Thank you for your encouraging words!

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