Common objections to giving internationally

Common objections to giving internationally

1. I already give enough. I prefer to invest in my own community.

While we have a natural desire to support our local communities, there is a large imbalance between domestic giving and international giving.  Ninety percent of the $499 billion that individuals in the United States give to nonprofits annually goes to domestic non-profits while only 10% is donated internationally.

Americans donate twice as much as individuals in other rich nations, but only a fraction goes to help people where there is the greatest need and where a dollar goes the furthest. Simple interventions can actually effectively remove barriers to human wellbeing with donations to high-impact nonprofits working in low-income contexts.

2. I need to save money for myself and for my family.

Spending money on ourselves and our family members now, or saving for future educational needs and retirement, does not have to prevent you from donating. There are two ways to help without hurting your family now or in the future. First, you can shift a portion of what you already donate to organizations  that have proven dramatic impact. Secondly, slightly increase the overall amount you donate and give this increase to high-impact organizations.

3. Poverty can’t be solved.

What if we shifted our perspective from the traditional framing of poverty as something to be saved from, to a proactive approach that focuses on the presence of positive environments? This approach, brought forward in this piece, is a useful way of thinking of the contribution each of us can make. While it may be the case that individual donations cannot solve all of the world’s problems, we can start thinking about what societies we’d like everyone to live in. For our team, these are societies where there are no barriers to human flourishing and wellbeing. Donations can help nonprofits innovate, scale and grow to the point that they can create healthy environments where people can thrive. 

4. Poverty isn’t the problem — it’s the symptom.

Extreme poverty is a result of many factors both historical as well as current economic, political and social causes.  But the fact is that helping people now not only reduces unnecessary suffering, but also helps create the conditions that favor eliminating both extreme poverty and many of the factors that maintain it.

Better health enables entrepreneurial people in low-income contexts to contribute much more strongly to their own success — they can work, they can go to school, they can contribute to their household income, and they don’t take someone else’s time and capacity to work by requiring care. A disabled person in the family, such as a grandparent with preventable blindness, might cause a child to miss out on an education in order to care for his or her family member. A context where this person is taken care of by the government or a nonprofit is one where everyone has an equal opportunity to flourish. 

5. People should solve their own problems.

The Nobel prize winning social scientist Herbert Simon estimates around 90% of what people earn is based upon their social capital — the places, networks, and opportunities that make up their present circumstances. Without stable institutions like efficient banks, a reliable police force, functioning schools and fair criminal justice systems, it is very difficult to compete on a global scale.

The American investor and philanthropist Warren Buffett acknowledges that he would not have acquired his own wealth without certain necessary conditions: “If you stick me down in the middle of Bangladesh or Peru, you’ll find out how much this talent is going to produce in the wrong kind of soil.” Without stable infrastructures, it will be difficult if not impossible to rise above poverty, no matter how hard you work or how talented you are (See Peter Singer, The Life You Can Save, p. 31).

Add to that the fact that people experiencing poverty are much more likely to be incapacitated by illness and its after-effects, and you can see that their starting conditions are significantly stacked against them. Globally, four out of five people who are blind suffer from treatable blindness — yet lack of access to treatment means they are unable to work and participate in social life fully as a result of their impairment.

People in low-income countries have to work extremely hard just to cover their basic needs: for instance, women globally spend 200 million work hours every day collecting water for their families – a basic resource that most of us take for granted.

This should give you an idea of just how much time and effort people around the world have to spend just to survive — before they get to the point where they can start making a surplus of any kind.


6. Aid makes low-income countries dependent upon foreign resources and funding.

Giving food directly to people living in extreme poverty has the potential to disrupt local economies — for example, by making it difficult for local farmers to competitively price their crops. Except in the case of natural disasters, illness, disease and other emergencies, handouts are not a sustainable way to remove barriers to human wellbeing and not considered an effective intervention.

However, many other types of interventions can successfully reinvigorate and strengthen local economies by providing foundations for long-term healthcare, agricultural, and educational solutions for those in appropriate contexts.

For example, organizations such as the Unlimit Health and Teaching at the Right Level Africa (TaRL Africa) work directly with governments in sub-Saharan Africa to create and strengthen local systems. Both organizations use funds to support  government-implemented programs. These organizations pave the way for pilot programs to become long-term parts of national healthcare and education systems, strengthening systems and leading to an eventual decrease in dependence on foreign aid.

Share this story:


About the author:

Matias Nestore

Matias Nestore is passionate about ways in which public policy and international development can become more equitable and effective by using evidence and amplifying the voices of those impacted. After studying education and international development at the University of Cambridge, Matias acted as research and impact officer and chief learning officer at Shaping Horizons, an incubator for social enterprises. He has worked as a researcher and project manager on initiatives and with organizations in the UK, Tunisia, Italy, and Argentina.

The views expressed in blog posts are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Peter Singer or The Life You Can Save.