Good pigeons – Making Our Relationships with Nonprofits Intentional

I often think about and struggle with how we as individuals can be more useful to and more engaged with the nonprofit and humanitarian organizations that we believe are doing good things.

With volunteer work and even with charitable giving it can be easy to become a “good pigeon”. It’s easy to swoop in and volunteer for a week or make a quick donation and fly off and allow the recipient to soak in the goodness we have dropped. While gift of a little time or a small monetary donation can be useful, often it is hard for organizations to figure out how to use short term volunteers and plan for the future if gifts come in randomly.

To those of us outside the situation,  a week on the ground volunteering for an organization is great. We feel like we are doing something good and tangibly doing work to help an organization and in some cases that may be true.

The reality is our time on the ground at an organization comes at a cost to the organization, regardless of how much work we do. We have to be fed, translated for, transported from place to place, event to event, and picked up from and returned to the airport. All of these things take someone in the organization away from their first responsibility of doing their work on the ground.

The reality is this, non-profits and humanitarian organization make this sacrifice in the hope that our time on the ground will build a lasting commitment to their cause. They hope that we will be inspired to come and work with them long term, to learn the language, take on responsibility and invest a year, or two, or five of our lives. For those who don’t have that type of freedom they hope we will commit to support them financially, or take on the task of actively helping them raise awareness for their work where we live.

If we do any one of those things, the gamble the organization made by inviting us to volunteer and spend time on the ground, pays off. If we treat it like a vacation we are justifying by doing good and return to our lives without looking back, we are acting more like than good pigeons than committed supporters.

The good pigeons metaphor also applies to financial giving. While there are situations that arise for organizations where small one time gifts are necessary and helpful to solve a specific problem . The reality is that while an organization will always take small one time gifts, these gifts don’t do as much good as we would like to believe. If we could commit to making that gift monthly, even if it’s a small amount, it would help the organization meet their regular obligations and move forward with confidence knowing that a portion of their expenses are covered on an ongoing basis.

I’m not trying to discourage giving in anyway. A one time gift is obviously better than no gift, but I would encourage you to think through why you are choosing to give to the organization. If you are moved by a specific need that has arisen and feel moved to help ease that situation, great. But before you finish the transaction and leave their site think about the organization and what they are doing on a larger scale. Do you believe in their work and that they are needed on the ground to make the situation better? If so I would ask that you think about changing your status from  “good pigeon” to committed supporter.


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