In Life and Death Situations, NGOs Are Forced to Exaggerate


According to the United Nations, tens of thousands of people have already died as a result of the famine in Somalia. For those already affected, though, their main priority is survival and safety, not the means by which they receive assistance. 

NGOs around the world aim to provide humanitarian relief to thousands of impoverished peoples facing famine or persecution. While these organizations’ primary directive is to improve quality of life and security, recent debate has challenged the truthfulness of their messages and missions. 

Due to challenges in competition and communication, NGO’s must sometimes resort to stretching the truth, or reality, in order to help those in need. Although this is not ideal, it is the way NGOs are able to cope with natural or artificial challenges and continue to provide aid and assistance. 

Now more than ever, competition between NGOs for donations is high. NGOs ask for charitable donations, ensuring donors that their money will be delivered to those in need. However, many NGOs are forced to exaggerate the truth of the situation. For example, they can increase the number of people affected as a method of garnering more donations.    

In addition to competition, NGOs also must be careful as to how they communicate their needs. If a famine is man-made rather than natural, donors are much less likely to donate. But, those innocent civilians affected by such disasters should not be deprived of aid because they played no role in creating it.

While I support honesty as the best policy, donations can be the difference between life and death for recipients and thus the question of “why” NGOs need donations outweighs that of “how” NGOs collect donations. 

If NGOs were always honest, they would have to tell donors, “I cannot ensure that your money will go to the people in need but we will do our best to get it there.” If that is the case, donors will be less willing to give money to an organization that does not guarantee that their money will have a direct impact. 

Although this is a sad truth, NGOs do have a significant impact. When sending money to Somalis affected by a famine, the lump sum of a donation may not bypass every channel and go directly to the people, but the sum they do receive will help. In reality, every little bit helps especially in the midst of devastation and survival. 

Although an NGO may not be entirely candid in their request for donations, they, like everyone else, must play the game to make a difference. 

In some ways, we can compare this to politics. For example, the late David Broder, a journalist for the Washington Post for more than 20 years, said, “anybody who wants the presidency so much that he'll spend two years organizing and campaigning for it is not to be trusted with the office.” 

Whether you agree with Broder or not, campaigning for two years is the necessary means to the end. Ultimately, NGOs and even presidential candidates must play the game in order to be put in a position to make a difference. 

If you disagree, I would argue your distaste should be directed towards the competitive system NGOs are subject to in order to raise money. Just as in presidential politics, do not hate the candidate, hate the game.

Photo Credit: Oxfam East Africa