When a giant typhoon hit the Philippines, GlobalGiving’s office was overwhelmed with calls and emails from donors who wanted to help.  “Which organization do you support?”, “When are you sending funds to the Philippines?”, and the occasional “How can I send ____ (any random item that you can think of) to the Philippines?” were some of the calls/emails we received that day.

I think Americans are very, very generous.  Excluding the fact that there is a big Filippino diaspora community in the States, the amount of donations we have received in the first week since the disaster happened was beyond my imagination.  At the same time, I’ve noticed that American donors are forgetful.  Once they donate, they tend not to read the project reports that the nonprofits write to them, and eventually unsubscribe themselves from the newsletters.

Nevertheless, giving culture is very unique to the United States.  Of course, there are tax incentives that encourage people to give, but asking to donate for your cause does not translate negatively to “begging” here, as it sadly does in many countries, including my country Japan.  The evolution of social media also made things much easier for people to donate, and technology including mobile-giving is lowering the barrier of entry for donors even further.

I wonder how this American giving culture will transform in the years to come.  Recently, I listened to an interesting podcast where a US-based organization gave cash directly to those in need, without channeling through the 3rd party like microfinance firms. Contrary to popular belief that the poor do not know how to spend money well, they invested that money in their children and their education.  I wonder if there will be a platform where a poor can post needs, and a donor can send funds with minimum due diligence.  The giving culture is now focusing on smaller communities and individuals, rather than an organization supporting a whole country or a city.

Though we can never ignore the power of an institution, especially at the times of the disaster, maybe true development begins by empowering the individual more directly.


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