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The slushfund at Riverkids

January 19, 2011

So every now and then we get an emergency that requires cash. As we have more families, this is more frequent. A sudden death, a house collapsing, and this week, two teenage sex workers who were in a minor road accident and are being held by the clinic until their families cough up $700. It’s complicated because we’re still trying to figure out what’s going on with the doctor’s threats, the families, etc. So far, we’ve gotten the price knocked down a couple of hundred, so hopefully they’ll be home soon.

Something bad happens. We have lots of great donors and social media access.

We can – and have at times – go online and post an appeal.

But – that means either delaying help for the client in danger until the funds arrive (let alone factoring in time to transfer the funds over to Cambodia) or being honest and saying “We’d really appreciate the donation, even though it won’t directly go to this person in time, but sort of replace the money we’ve already spent on them.”

Not so sexy.

We want to imagine that the money, our money, is getting handed over like some shiny baton of charity from our hands to the charity to the grateful recipient – and it’s our special money, not anyone else’s grubby cash.

Because putting money into a charity’s general unrestricted funds – the slushfund! – is decidedly dull. Your donation is far more likely to be spent on a bit of the utilities’ bill, or staff payroll or other mundane everyday expenses, than the $100 of life-saving medicine or school uniforms or baby milk or whatever else the charity hopes you’ve visualised on donating.

Reading the discussions on Kiva on this blog, I can see why people are pissed at Kiva fine printing that the loans are all predisbursed.

I have very mixed feelings about Kiva and other donor-pooling websites like them. But this bit is I think as much a donor problem as a fundraiser’s.

People give more and faster when it’s urgent. When they think they alone make a difference. I found it easier to give to the Pakistan floods than the Haiti earthquakes personally because I knew the floods were getting less coverage, and I felt ‘virtuous’ about the 10 minutes it took me to research and choose a Pakistan charity to support.

(Another post there – I donated a couple of months ago, and no contact since – I would have happily given them more at Christmas or this new year if they’d sent me an update. I have another charity I gave to for two years, lost when I switched cards, and they’ve not followed up to get me to resubscribe. And they’re not little ops like Riverkids, but big places that should know and do better.)

So slushfunds are vital. With the slushfund, we can respond immediately. And I remain deeply, deeply sceptical of any charity that truly commits to honest P2P funding for critical situations. From a client point of view, Kiva’s fund-first approach is better than waiting around hoping that you’ll get chosen, not just by your local MFI, but also by a bunch of people in what amounts to a dating site.

The fine print still sucks.

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