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Nonprofit Organizations

Non-profit organizations are a great outlet for individuals to contribute through in times of crisis around the world. Society values benevolence and people are always willing to help those that are struggling. Through organizations such as Red Cross and UNICEF, individuals are able to donate resources to assist relief efforts. However, the efficiency of these corporations has recently been under scrutiny and extensive research has been done analyzing the allocation of funds, the actions of administrators, and the productiveness of volunteers carrying out the wishes of donors. Learning about the ineffectiveness of these organizations may prompt individuals to play a more active role in seeing where their donations go. Also, policymakers can ensure that these organizations are regulated, therefore promoting effectiveness and improving the performance of administrators and volunteers. There are numerous articles outlining the various issues with non-governmental aid organizations. They all conclude that these organizations appear to have limited accountability and there are few evaluations of the actual services delivered that they promised. However, I intend to focus on the repercussions faced by both the organizations and people receiving the services. The lack of transparency among nongovernmental organizations leads to a decrease in accountability causing relief efforts to be ineffective.

Nongovernmental organizations hold a great deal of responsibility. They provide a variety of services to communities in need and are funded through donations made by large corporations and individuals. The main purpose of these organizations is to deliver humanitarian aid to struggling societies. They aim to prevent and alleviate hardships around the world until long term relief can be provided by the government. These organizations are necessary for emergency relief because they possess a plethora of resources not available to the government and other institutions in times of crisis. This is because benefactors continuously donate allowing these organizations to accumulate materials letting them prepare for the worst. The funding and delivery of humanitarian aid is worldwide and not centered in one area, making it much faster and more effective in assisting major crisis affecting large amounts of people.

There has been an increasing recognition of the relationship between relief organizations and donors due to the growing number of catastrophes and natural disasters. Therefore, there is an emphasis on recruiting the best and most qualified volunteers equipped to tend to emergency situations. Participants willing to volunteer need to be trained properly in order to deliver the best aid. Duties may include training other members of emergency response teams, providing clothing, food, and other supplies, handling clerical work, scheduling blood donations, and assisting military facilities (Become a Volunteer, 2018) . Although there are a variety of factors that contribute to the effectiveness of volunteers, the most important aspect of outlining the efficiency of individuals is analyzing the people in charge of managing resources and allocating funds.

The organization of humanitarian aid organizations has proved to be problematic. This is seen through the emergency relief efforts done by these organizations in response to various natural disasters such as earthquakes, tsunamis, and hurricanes. The most recent example of administrative issues can be seen through the actions of Red Cross when accommodating citizens of Haiti after the 2010 earthquake. Haiti experienced a traumatizing earthquake on January 12, 2010 leaving the nation in turmoil. There were nearly 250,000 casualties and hundreds of thousands were left injured and without shelter, forcing them to live in scattered tent cities. Millions of citizens faced food shortages. Haiti was forever altered due to the natural disaster.

After the earthquake, individuals around the world contributed to Red Cross in order to allow them to distribute the proper resources to the struggling nation. The charity raised over five-hundred million dollars, making it one of the most successful fundraising efforts ever! However, despite the tremendous amount of money raised for Haiti, the organization exhibited a pattern of poorly managed projects, questionable spending, and skeptical claims of prosperity and triumph. The Red Cross publicly boasted about their success, however these declarations were exaggerated and ultimately not an accurate reflection of what was actually going on in Haiti.

In his article, Michael VanRooyen discusses the effectiveness of the coordination and insurance of accountability among emergency response corporations. He discusses the factors that contribute to ineffective humanitarian aid and the progress toward reform to ensure improved efficiency. He particularly focuses on the 2010 Haiti earthquake as an example to show how the progress of volunteers who work for non-governmental organizations were hindered by their lack of coordination, restricted infrastructure, and security concerns.

VanRooyen states that these major challenges led to a relief effort that was poorly monitored and lacked liability. There was a mass influx of aid organizations, however they ultimately proved to be problematic due to their lack of coordination and experience with a large scale natural disaster. This was because donors did not insist on effectiveness measures, creating a setting that focused on the amount of aid rather than the effect of the aid. The organization claimed to provide housing for over 130,000 people. In fact, the actual number of homes built in Haiti was six (VanRooyen, 14). The Red Cross refuted these claims by saying that they were only able to build six permanent due to complications with the land titles, and stated that they were able to provide alternative forms of shelter. Despite these unsupported claims, there is still an overwhelming amount of evidence pointing to a lack of efficiency and organization when it came to rebuilding the nation. According to the Red Cross mission statement, the organization had zealous plans to develop brand new communities for people to live in. However, despite convincing promises made by the CEO, none of these communities were ever built.

This is also supported by the arguments made by Vijaya Ramachandran and Julie Walz. Although a great deal of money was raised by charitable non governmental organizations, due to a “trickle down” effect, only one percent of those funds were allocated to the Haitian government. In order to allocate funds appropriately, Red Cross had to assign various companies to carry out work that could not be handled by volunteers due to the severity of the natural disaster. Money passed through multiple layers of subcontractors before actually reaching the groups implementing projects on the ground. Each layer that the money went through significantly reduced the amount available for projects by as much as eleven percent. Billions of dollars in aid was collected, not only by Red Cross but by other nongovernmental organizations as well. However, only one percent of it went to the public treasury (Ramachandran and Walz, 31). These charitable organizations are supposed to leave the country they are helping with aid in order to continue relief efforts. Not only did Haiti not receive the help they were promised, but they also were left with no funds to properly assess the damages on their own

A study conducted by the Urban Institute Center on Nonprofit and Philanthropy found that the larger the charity, the more likely the charity engaged in self dealing transactions (Aprill, 423). This means that the charity allocates its net earnings to private shareholders.Nongovernmental entities are required to provide public benefit rather than private benefit. To ensure this, enforcement efforts are focused on guaranteeing that these organizations are not providing unreasonable benefits to those who work for these corporations. Nonprofit, tax-exempt organizations are subject to a variety of rules regarding self benefits. According to Ramachandran and Walz, one quarter of the money donors gave for earthquake relief in Haiti in 2010 was spent on internal expenses.

These nonprofit organizations appear to have limited accountability and there are few evaluations of the actual services delivered that they promised. Almost sixty-five percent of organizations had no reports of their progress and activity in the nation and only provided emotional and anecdotal appeals on their websites (Ramachandran and Walz, 34). Negative outcomes were never even documented. This is problematic because Red Cross intentionally falsified statistics in order to deceive the public, proving a lack of transparency. According to Ramachandran and Walz, out of 196 organizations, only eight had public and regularly updated situation reports on their activities in Haiti. Top Red Cross officials were only concerned about the appearance of aid and not actually delivering it. The fact that they were only interested in looking good, and not solving the problem, is incredibly demoralizing.

“There’s a lot of waste and abuse that’s allowed to go on just because there is no accountability,” said Daniel Borochoff, president of the nonprofit CharityWatch. They exist in “a black hole” of accountability, he said, especially in the realm of international grants. When a government program is at fault, the public is informed and is given thorough details of the mishap. However, when a nongovernmental organization is at fault, especially when delivering foreign aid, individuals have no way to tell whether the donations actually go towards helping those in need and if they are satisfied with their services. Red Cross insisted that $70 million was spent to oversee and evaluate progress in Haiti (Yuhas, 2015). However, upon further investigation, the charity was unable to provide documentation and financial evidence that oversight activities occurred.

Although the Red Cross displays various pie charts on their website, showing the percentage of money raised that went to each sector, the organization does not provide an extensive list of the specific programs they ran, how much they each cost, and what their expenses were. Their memos contain records of long bureaucratic delays and various internal problems. Red Cross is supposed to be helping those in need at a larger scale than local organizations who often lack resources and are unaccustomed to servicing an entire civilization. Furthermore, aid organizations often report their spending in vague and general categories such as “medical supplies” and “housing and shelter”. These categories are not an accurate way to understand how funds are allocated because they are not specific enough, and can jumble together everything from housing repairs to snacks.

Red Cross made its biggest promises in the housing sector, and nothing was accomplished. They paraded around Haiti with polished booklets containing photos of brand new homes, bathrooms, water and sanitation systems, and a health clinic. However, the photos seen of Haiti today tell a different story of Red Cross’s achievements. Even eight years after the disaster, many residents still live in shacks made of rusty metal and tin, without access to electricity and no sturdy roof to protect from floods after the rain. When it rains, civilians must physically bail out the mud and water in order to prevent their home from completely flooding. There are still tens of thousands of people living in camps and temporary housing. When one looks around the streets of Haiti, there are half finished buildings that are still not completely rebuilt after the earthquake. In addition, there is no functioning public hospital. These are not conditions that anybody should be living in.

In her article, Marjorie Valbrun discusses specific instances of the failed humanitarian relief in Haiti. She talks about the thread of anger that runs through the citizens of Haiti that is directed towards nongovernmental organizations that fueled their hope with empty promises. Civilians often refer to nonprofit organizations as thieves or crooks, liars, and corrupt. Civilians are aware that the presence of a plethora of nongovernmental organizations can be problematic. These organizations are sometimes at cross purposes with Haitian officials, and are even in competition with each other. There is a history of student led anti-government protests and an overall sense of misery throughout the nation.

Although VanRooyen writes about the various ways that humanitarian aid has proved to be problematic, he also highlights the reconstruction towards professionalism that humanitarian relief organizations are going through. There is an introduction of academic programs and professional development courses that are being offered to members of humanitarian groups. There is also talk of setting universal standards to improve coordination among response teams to increase accountability and effectiveness. Organizations are actively engaging and encouraging volunteers to educate themselves in leadership development, ethics, and critical analysis (VanRooyen, 14). If these educational programs would be implemented on a larger scale it would ensure that volunteers are equipped to handle emergencies on any scale. Furthermore, it would reduce the chance of mismanagement.

The Red Cross is not the only organization accused of a lack of accountability, misallocation of funds, and falsifying statistics. Although the charities in the humanitarian industry are looked at as pure, they must be evaluated as businesses. People working for these organizations often profit a great deal and make a wealthy living. Therefore, charities must be held as accountable as any private business.

Freelance Writer

I’m a freelance writer with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism from Boston University. My work has been featured in publications like the L.A. Times, U.S. News and World Report, Farther Finance, Teen Vogue, Grammarly, The Startup, Mashable, Insider, Forbes, Writer (formerly Qordoba), MarketWatch, CNBC, and USA Today, among others.

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