It Is Time To Expect More From Nonprofits: Part 2

In our previous post, It Is Time To Expect More From Nonprofits: Part 1, we delved into some of the main issues surrounding the nonprofit industry and areas where we as the public can begin to expect better from these organizations. In the spirit of coming with alternative solutions and not just highlighting the negative, today we wanted to take those same issues and present a different path for each. These are just a couple ideas of ways the nonprofit model can be improved and ways in which we can demand more from those whom our donations are supporting.

These ideas and suggestions are not new, are not groundbreaking, but are often times in contrast with the status quo model of nonprofit work. We come to these ideas not from armchair analysis, but from first hand experience and years of listening and learning. Not to say we have all the answers, far from it, but what we are saying is there has to be a better way and these are good places to start.

Issue 1: Savior Complex

In the previous post we defined what this term means and where it comes from. In combating this notion and moving into a more person centered model, we need to start asking questions of ourselves. As human beings who care about travel, helping others, or just seeing the world be a better place, we need to have an honest conversation with ourselves and ask what our motivations are for wanting to “help.” Who is this really for? We can be honest and say “Yes part of this is for me, and  it makes me feel good.” This is not bad. But we then need to decide how we are going to go about “helping” and making sure we are doing it in a way that does not harm ourselves and those we want to serve. Individuals and nonprofit organizations alike have to begin to accept their own inadequacies in addressing global poverty and complex issues. Coming in to any situation our first approach should be to learn, to listen, and to assume nothing. To try to set aside our notion of what is best and adapt to what is going to be the most effective in any given situation. This is where we have to have dialogue with ourselves and with those we aim to serve. We are not saviors, we are not smarter or more skilled or more knowledgeable than someone who lives day to day in the places we work. If we can start from there the savior dynamic can be dismantled.

Issue 2: The Rise of voluntourism/experteering

Just to refresh, go ahead and watch this video we shared in the last post.

There are multitudes of alternative methods of giving your time and resources that are more effective and impactful than voluntourism based trips or organizations. As outlined in the video the pitfalls of this style of travel and service are many. So what can we do instead? For starters, the simple act of where we choose to travel and how can make a huge impact. Injecting your travel dollars into communities that are equipped to effectively utilize those dollars can change generations of lives. Travel has so much value for those that travel and the places who benefit from it, so we would never encourage people to not do it. But, it is a privilege and the money we spend to do it could go to help many people. So the balance is to spend time learning about the best ways to travel that can also be positive influences. Vet companies that you choose thoroughly and demand they practice sustainable tourism. Get off the beaten  track and spread the tourism economy around so more people can benefit. Nonprofit organizations who sell voluntourism trips are lacking in an understanding of the long term damage that model causes and are ignoring the vast potential for sustainable development that can come from more nuanced and thought-out methods.

Issue 3: The dismissal of local organizations

Go to any developing country, and place where “poor people” live and any place where large nonprofit organizations are working and you will find dozens if not hundreds of local, grassroots organizations already working to address the same problems these bigger, outside organizations are focused on. So why both? Why reinvent the wheel? The alternative solution is to use our power as privileged and fortunate people to empower and lift up these local organizations. Coming together and sharing our gifts to help each other up is always good, but if we are coming at it with thinking the people who need some more support don’t know how to solve problems is going back to issue number 1. Be willing and open to listen to the people who call these places home. Let’s use our resources to support what is already being done, even if it is not the solution we would choose or project we would undertake. If we could couple local expertise, experience, and passion with considerable material and financial resources, we would be well on our way to solving the big global issues of our time. It is up to us to demand that nonprofit organizations begin to adopt this model instead of seeking to please donors with irrelevant projects and feel-good stories. Real change comes from sustained, focused, and oftentimes difficult work.

We as the public need to start holding non-profits and volunteering organization more accountable. Going in and constructing a building in Eastern Kenya only to see it not being used and falling by the wayside should never happen. We need to ask why was this built? Did the people not need it or want it? Why is our donated money going to projects that are not being utilized to help the community in the best way possible? We have seen in other areas that social pressure and an informed public can bring about paradigm shifts. We can do this in the nonprofit sector if we choose to use our power.

Issue 4: the silencing of local voices

The root solution for this issue comes down to a simple act that seems to fade further into obscurity in our modern society: listening. And not the type of listening you do to gain information to then prove your point. No, we mean listening with your heart and with your mind open. Nonprofit organizations come into communities too often already equipped with their plans and goals before ever even asking what needs to be done. Donor drive the projects that organizations choose to do based on what will get more donations. This is a backwards and damaging model. The alternative is first, for us as the public to stop feeding into that system of marketing. We need to vet extensively the organizations that “market”  these types of projects and service programs. We need to ask, why do you sell photos of starving children to me? Is this what every place you work really looks like? Is that the image you want to portray? We as the public need to stop playing into these situations and start putting the real time in to figure out what is really going to help. In turn, nonprofit organizations need to change from a donor driven model to an empowerment model based on long term relationships and locally created solutions. Even if this means it costs some donors who refuse to connect with a real message, the model has to change. The roadmap is clear: ask what the challenges are, hear ideas and solutions, empower local leaders to implement solutions, present results to donating public, continue long term support. If we can begin to steer the nonprofit sector more toward this way of working we can come closer to shifting the narrative around service work and travel at large.

As I stated before, starting this conversation comes from a place of deep caring and desire to see real change and progress in addressing the ongoing injustice and inequality in our world. For too long we have been on a cyclical cycle of dependency and poverty that can’t be broken without a drastic shift in how we view this work. At Travel Life Adventures our goal is to be a small participant in helping empower people the world over to take control of their lives and see their communities improved for good.

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