Research Friday: Why Give to International Charities?
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.
^  Charities Aid Foundation's (CAF) World Giving Index 2011. <https://www.cafonline.org/publications/2011-publications/world-giving-index-2011.aspx>.
^  "Giving USA 2011" Reports.
^  Singer, Peter. The Life You Can Save: Acting Now to End World Poverty. New York: Random House, 2009. Print.