The charity sector is one of the fastest growing sectors, and even the outbreak of COVID-19 and the global pandemic did not affect its growth. If anything, the need for charities that serve communities locally and around the world has risen during the past year. Now as the entire world is facing the challenges of recession and economic crisis, it is more important than to ask how we can support those who are in need.
In the week leading up to Easter, we thought it would be a good idea to think how we can help others more effectively. One of the challenges lies in paying attention. There are many, many needs in all of our communities, and it can be tempting to decide which ones are the most important and focus on those. However, sometimes the needs we see may not be the biggest or most practical ones that need to be met.
This brings to mind the story that the infoodle founders Richard & Aukje Smith, shared recently with our team. During their work with an NGO in West Africa, they heard of a time when the UN handed out beans to feed the starving people. The beans were easy to transport, plentiful and a good source of nutrition. However, when the UN people returned weeks later, they found the villagers in an even worse state. They couldn’t figure out what happened, so they asked what the community had done to the beans. “Oh, we still have them,” – came the reply. – “We don’t know what to do with them.” Thus, sometimes good intentions might not meet the needs: like in this case when the local people had not been consulted nor shown how to cook the beans.
This brings us to the question of what charities, churches and community groups can do to ensure that we serve our communities in the best possible way. Here are a few good practices:
Do your research
Not-for-profit organisations that manage to meet the practical needs in the best way spend time studying and getting to know their communities. They don’t simply guess or do what they want. Take time and talk to people in the community, neighbourhood, town or city to find out about their struggles. Look at the demographics, learn about the age, health, background, interests and economic situation of those you desire to help. If your community consists of mostly retired and the elderly, a support to pregnant teenage girls may be better set up in a different area.
Partner with others
Collaboration and joint effort go a long way. Talk to other charities, social workers, government agencies, law enforcement, shelters, food banks, or churches currently operating in the area. Sometimes it may be better to get alongside other organisations that are already doing good work, help them, support them, and build ongoing relationships instead of jumping around and setting up a new organisation.
Learn more about your volunteers
It’s also important to evaluate the gifts and passions of the people in your organisation, since they will be the ones actually out there on the front line. Those who really care passionately about the work they are doing are bound to be more successful, so make sure you’re utilising your volunteers’ talents. For example, if you are a church that has a high percentage of accountants or lawyers, you might consider setting up a free debt counselling and legal advice service. In some cases, you may need to establish the clinic or service outside of your area and go where the vulnerable people who need the help are. Make sure that your team is safe and taken care of if they need to volunteer long hours – provide them with a lunch or a ride home.
Improve your communication
Today there are more and more regulations being put upon charities. Donors expect organisations that they support to be transparent and to produce tangible evidence that they do what they say they are doing. People also want to give their donations wisely and choose those they know are meeting a need. Have a good system in place to monitor outcomes and keep your donors and supporters informed about the good work you’re doing. A solid CRM, a finance tracking system to collect donations or generate reports, and a reliable email service provider are crucial for establishing better communication with stakeholders.
In conclusion, the key is to have programs that meet people’s actual needs and help them to have a better quality of life, to enjoy life despite their circumstances or to alleviate pain and suffering. We need to really care and have a heart of compassion for the poor and needy, the widows and the orphans, as the Bible tells us.
Many great charities and foundations are born out of individuals’ desire for change in a certain area. It may be that you have a strong desire to help a particular sector that is not being met. Get other like minded people together and talk about it, do lots of planning, and do your research well. Make sure what you want to do is also perceived as a need by the people who you are wanting to help. Make sure it is not a situation like the beans in West Africa!