A guest blog from Julie Cowdroy: an ambassador for the Global Poverty Project and Opportunity International Australia. This article was first published on ABC 's The Drum on the 21st of December 2010 - you can read the Drum article, here.
Pictures of goats are popular at this time of year. Cards and e-cards featuring a photograph of a goat usually wearing sunglasses are in circulation representing the fact that somewhere, someone has received a goat, and someone else has received a picture of a goat.
The charity gifts trend is alive and well in Australia and many are jumping on board to purchase goats as well as a plethora of other gifts, spending anywhere from $5 to $10,000. One can choose to buy pencils, poo, piglets, or a taxi service in the Philippines for the world’s poorest people.
TEAR created the first charity gifts catalogue in 1994 while Oxfam launched its first Unwrapped campaign seven years ago, and many poverty driven NGOs have hightailed it to follow in their, er, hoovesteps. An environment of goodwill is a great way to stimulate some Christmas cha-ching for overseas development programs - in 2008, Oxfam alone raised $6 million, even at the height of the GFC - but it’s also what we as consumers want.
According to a 2005 report issued by the Australia Institute, 73 per cent of Australians would be happy to receive a charity gift, although, of course we would answer that way.
Still, a marketing manager of one organisation that only jumped on board the charity gifts bandwagon this year said that they decided to run a Christmas campaign because many of their donors were asking for it. Why? People are sick of buying crap at Christmas. They want something more ‘meaningful’.
Yet how meaningful are goats? There is nothing worse then getting something you don’t need – a universal truth that also applies to those who live below subsistence.
One of the first lessons that purchasers of such gifts learn is that it is not always clearly articulated that paying for a goat does not actually mean that a kid named Billy is bought and shipped off overseas. Often the money is collected and spent on projects and programs according to where an organisation decides the ‘most need’ is.
The method of delivery varies from group to group. For instance, every gift available for purchase at ChildFund Australia has been researched and the number of, say, piglets available for ‘sale’ is the number of piglets required for a particular community. You buy a piglet, a piglet shall be given. World Vision and Oxfam have broader categories. Buy a chicken and they’ll put the money towards their livelihood programs. Buy a bicycle ambulance or a hip-hop microphone and the money will go towards their education programs. Yes, one of the items you can buy is a hip-hop microphone. World to the Vision.
TEAR have a colour-coded system - red for education, green for agricultural and farming gifts, blue for health and so on. By placing gifts within categories as TEAR, World Vision, Oxfam and others do, the donor can see how their gift is a part of a broader development strategy.
Edward Fox, who was Oxfam's Fundraising and Marketing Director until 2007, and is now the CEO of Opportunity International UK says, “When done well, the charity gifts proposition can improve the public’s understanding of the charity and increase the supporters’ affection for the cause. They can be fun and they are a light-hearted way to explain (unwrap) what the charity does.”
The desire to understand more about international development is evident in the many requests to organisations for donors to track specific gifts and get a photo of the actual gift being given. It seems to get on one’s goat not knowing who gets one’s goat. Some are bursting to know if someone will be bursting with gratitude to see the goat that they gave. NGOs do not generally offer this service.
However, a group called Charity:water has an aspect to their campaign called Proving It. Once a donor funds a project, local partners submit reports back to the group about the execution of the project. Charity:water then give donors photos as well as coordinates to plug into Google Maps so one can see the project they funded. A commemorative plaque is uploaded that recognises the donor and community who worked together to make the project possible.
People enjoy this. They want to feel connected to the receiver of the gift. However, it is a very fine line between wanting to know where one’s donation ends up and reinforcing the message that donors are the “Whites in Shining Armour”.
Goats at Christmas time provide the perfect opportunity to reflect on how we approach international aid and development. Archie Law, CEO of ActionAid says, “For the world’s billion hungry people who are marginalised and excluded from basic services, the daily struggle continues long after Christmas. When you buy that goat this Christmas maybe you can spend a moment thinking about what you can do in 2011 to contribute to the long-term changes needed to affect meaningful change in the lives of the most excluded.”
There are great projects and programs that poverty-driven NGOs are executing and donors should ensure they are savvy and do their homework to make sure the groups they channel money into have sustainable development strategies. True partnership with the worlds marginalised involves an understanding on our part of the role goats play in global development. And that shouldn’t get on anyone’s goat.