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Why “Just Send Money” Might Be A Terrible Idea

Shouldn’t we just send money to fix the world?

“Why do we waste all that time and effort sending volunteers when we could just send money instead?”

“Those people need the jobs and when volunteers go to help out they are stealing the work!”

“Volunteers don’t know what they are doing anyways!”

There is hardly a week that goes by that I don’t have this conversation with someone.

The problem with critics is sometimes they are right. It is true that volunteers sometimes take on jobs that they cannot do as well as a local person. It is true that when people just send money it is used to create jobs that the wages are used again and again in the communities. This supports a lot more people over time than one volunteer.

So are the critics right?

  • Should we spend that $3000 on the expenses of a volunteer?
  • Or is it better to just send money over to an agency to do $3000 worth of work?
  • Or better yet, should we find a way to get that $3000 directly to the person on the ground!

The question is often asked, and I have a simple response to the people who ask, “If you think it is best to just send money to people, write me a cheque!

I am still waiting for the person who asks this question to just give me the money.

Mostly I am asked the question by people who have no intention of donating a dime. They use these ‘gotcha’ type questions as a way to avoid their own guilty conscience. They question the money that other people are rating through countless hours of hard work.

 

So what should we do with the money?

I realize that my response does not really answer the question. What is the best usage of the money? International travellers and workers worry over this question they ask it honestly. Is it selfish to spend the money for my trip? Shouldn’t I send them the money instead? Do I need to be on the ground?

I think you do.

The reasons why you shouldn’t just send money has nothing to do with a return on investment. The reason is much more important.  When people see the problems of the poor simply as a financial issue, it perpetuates the myth that poverty is just an unfair distribution of resources. This leads to simple thinking and terrible plans.just send money

  1. Poor people need money.
  2. We have money.
  3. Just Send Money.
  4. Problem solved. Next!

 

The idea that we should open our piggie banks and  ‘just send money’ assumes that the situation just needs money. 

 

This way of thinking is dangerous.

Sure, at times we all need cold hard cash. When you hear about a natural disaster; just send money! In places of extreme poverty the poorest people on the planet don’t want to slowly starve or watch loved ones die of diseases that could be easily prevented while we have anxious ethical argument about whether we should give or not.

Money matters a lot.

 

There are plenty of things that money does not buy

But, after managing a certain level of poverty. When people stop dying today or tomorrow. Fewer and fewer problems are fixed by simply sending more money. Community development happens when communities decide to gather together and change their destiny. Mission begins in trust and relationship. And that is why you need to go.

Your money can’t know the community but you can.

It doesn’t take much. Leave your wallet at home. Lend your voice and your ideas and your passion to others. Ignore the critics. Practice trust. Believe in people. Expect their capacity. Share your stories. Help people see another way. Be a catalyst. Dream with others. Bring in ideas. Take new ideas from others. Give and receive freely.

Consider the people in your life who have never given you a cent but have changed your world. How can you be that type of person to someone else?

Mark Crocker

 

What might you miss out on if you just send money?

10 responses on "Why "Just Send Money" Might Be A Terrible Idea"

  1. Profile photo of Kaylee

    I love how this post addresses this question because I have heard this one many times when advocating for short-term missions. The principle that money cannot buy relationship or community is simple and basic, but many people do not jump to that conclusion right away. They do not seem to understand that STM is also for us building relationships throughout the world. This was a good reminder for me that it is important to send people and not just money. I also like how this blog posts points out that the thinking of ‘just sending money’ is a dangerous way of thinking. It really does try and conclude that all the problems can be fixed through money and nothing else.

  2. I really likes what you said, “Expect their capacity. Share your stories. Help people see another way. Be a catalyst. Dream with others. Bring in ideas. Take new ideas from others. Give and receive freely.” I feel like if we could meet some of the amazing people overseas and partner with them we can do a lot more. If we do give them money it will go a lot further because we know that we can trust them to do the right thing with it. That is not the end of our responsibility. We need to keep the relationship and the support going.

    • Profile photo of Mark Crocker

      how do we see someone if we only see them through the lens of ‘support’ … think about the friends you have. Do you expect to support them for years, or do you expect to share relationship for years ..?

  3. I think one of the reasons why we shouldn’t just send money is that by just sending money you don’t change the problem. Just cashing out money will not solve the issue. There needs to be something that will lead to lifestyle change. Giving money obviously helps with solving those problems but by sending volunteers or going yourself, you are able to work towards a change to end the cycle of poverty, or whatever the issue is.

    Obviously one short term mission isn’t going to solve the entire problem but it helps in the process. You are able to implement positive lifestyle changes when you go and you are able to show the people love. Sending money does not necessarily show the love that is needed. Being present with the people in the situation is what shows love and it also helps in motivating them to move towards a sustainable lifestyle change.

    I think that both sending money and going yourself combined are the best solution. The money is needed to do the work but by going you are able to see where that money is being used and see if it is truly making an impact.

    Caitlin

    • Profile photo of Mark Crocker

      the problem with focusing on sustainable lifestyle change is that we position ourselves in the judgement seat. Just imagine if you had to respond to someone who was willing to work with you only if you made positive lifestyle choices (IE lost 20 lbs, or started a consistent mediation practice) it sure would feel like they were your boss. No one wants that … including the materially poor

  4. Profile photo of Mark Crocker

    hey Trevor thanks for the question! I realize that the first answer (give me a cheque) is perhaps a sidestep away from the deeper question.

    When people push deepert because they truly want to understand why THEY should go I try to unpack that answer under the point I make about relationships. We go because we need to see this as a relationship more than an exchange. Meeting people from other cultures involving ourselves in their lives, introducing ourselves to the stranger, making friends with people who look different than I do are all relational activities – not financial.

    When people see this through the lens of a financial activity then questions about cost-effectiveness make a lot of sense. They don’t make sense if we see them through the lens of relationship. You don’t have friends and family because of great money management. Friends and family are and end unto themselves. I argue that international relationships are also deeply fulfilling and require presence more than presents

    • That’s great Mark. So putting it in simple terms that may cheapen it but provide a sound bite, would you say a great deal of the “better” has to do with broadening worldview for the volunteer, and the “touch” aspect ministry requires for those being reached, which of course requires a live person?

      • Profile photo of Mark Crocker

        Trevor i would say partially. Or maybe half-way. Being present should be done in such a way that it matters to both of us, not just the one going. If going overseas is just for the one making the trip (to broaden our worldview or to ‘touch’ or ‘reach’ others), then this smacks of a subtle sense of superiority. I am making a subtle point (maybe too subtle) but i see the greatest value in the exchange.

        Our presence should matter to one another relationally – we both grow and learn through this experience. I want to argue that we need to be there as much for us to receive real practical things from others as much as we consider what we will give.

        my soundbite? do we use the money for a project or to start a friendship? if this is all about projects then by all means send the cheque … I think it should be something more …

  5. Hey Mark. Thanks for this article, as this is a topic I’ve pondered a great deal. I feel like you haven’t yet argued your point here yet though–that is, that we need to send people (or go ourselves), not just send the money. Can you give us some specific reasons why going instead of just sending money is the “better” or “right” way?

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