5 Popular Forms of Charity (That Aren't Helping)

#2. Earmarking Your Donations

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What You Think You Do

Similar to choosing charities with low overheads, earmarking your donation ensures that your money goes to something important, as it specifies that it has to be spent on a particular project.

Why You Shouldn't Do It

Charity funding tends to be a lot like high school -- the cool kids get all the attention, while the nerdy ones are left to their own devices.

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"Displaced Tornado Victims? Oh, he's over there, but trust us, you don't want to talk to him."

In the charity world, this means that some projects are considered sexier than others. It makes sense, really: Telling people that you funded a hospital makes you look like a better person than saying you contributed to a sewage system for a goat farm.

When you combine this bias with the ability to earmark your donations, what you get is a massive imbalance in funding that leads to some serious bureaucratic absurdities. In the wake of the 2004 tsunami, aid agencies received so many donations earmarked for housing people who'd lost their homes that they ended up building mini-mansions for many of them, just to get rid of all that excess cash they literally couldn't spend on anything else.

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"Sorry, we're all out of the money earmarked for food and medical care. Would an extra three bathrooms help?"

Even the most innocent-seeming and vague earmarks -- like saying your money should go to orphanages or tsunami victims -- can cause problems due to their restrictive nature. In Indonesia, charities could only help areas that had literally been hit by the tsunami. People further inland were poorer, and the chaos left them in desperate need of aid, but since they didn't get wet, the charities couldn't do anything for them.

Hell, specifying a country is too much. Take the earthquake that struck Japan in 2011. While it was truly an awful tragedy, Japan is a wealthy country that is extremely well-versed in recovering from whatever geography throws at it. However, due to the dramatic nature of the disaster, the outpouring of aid from around the world was so amazing that Japan got way more than it needed. And thanks to earmarking, instead of using the surplus donations to help other countries in need or prepare for the next disaster, charities were stuck spending it in the Land of the Rising Sun ... despite the fact that Japan stated multiple times that they didn't need or even want our help.

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"We really do appreciate the thought. Now, please fuck off."

#1. Volunteering After Disasters

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What You Think You Do

Correctly done, donating money after a disaster is a great way to help. But you know what would be even greater? Volunteering your time, that's what! The aftermath of a disaster tends to leave the area in severe need of much heavy lifting -- helping the affected people, rebuilding the destroyed area, that sort of thing. For that, they need fearless manpower. They need you, goddamnit!

So you travel to the affected country and valiantly offer your services, completely disregarding all personal danger and discomfort. What on earth could be a better way to help?

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"That homeless lady I saw is going to appreciate this so hard."

Why You Shouldn't Do It

Honestly? Pretty much anything.

Because you suck.

Seriously, you do -- at least when it comes to volunteer work.

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"You guys should crash up here, it's way comfier than those huts you used to have."

Most unsolicited volunteers don't have any training, and while good intentions are nice, if you can't tell your ass from a screwdriver, you won't be building hospitals anytime soon.

Even if you somehow know what you're doing, chances are you probably won't speak the language or know the local customs. The first time you ask for directions to the bathroom, you might accidentally insult somebody's ancestors and start a blood feud. That's why even doctors are told not to head overseas except in strictly controlled conditions -- charity workers who are familiar with the area tend to get stuck babysitting them when they should be doing their jobs. If the guys with Ph.D.s are getting in the way, how much use do you think your art history degree will be?

Via Medair.org
"Alright, who needs me to sort their Picassos by period?"

We tend to think of disaster victims as huddled masses, waiting for the developed world to swoop in to the rescue like we're the Batman to their Gotham City. Part of it is the media -- as we all know, tragedy makes for better ratings. However, people actually donate more money when victims are portrayed as helpless, so at least that particular cloud has a silver lining.

The real culprit is our illusion of superiority. Be honest, now -- isn't it a little arrogant to assume that people in the developing world are so incompetent that you and your vague memories of high school shop class are going to make a difference in their lives?

Via Nhlink.net
"That's called a 'saw.' We use it to cut wood. Are you with me so far?"

There are going to be plenty of survivors who know how to get shit done, and they're damn well not going to sit on their thumbs while their community suffers. Not only are they more than willing to work, they'll be way more motivated than some guy who popped down for spring break.

The real problem after a disaster is never the shortage of manpower; it's the shortage of resources. Food, water, materials, copies of Diablo III ... these are what a community needs to rebuild, and it's hard to fight that shortage when you have a small army of volunteers consuming what little is available.

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"We're here! When do we eat?"

If you volunteer overseas, you might help build a few houses, but you'll also be tearing through a lot of food and water. Food and water, you know, that could have gone to someone who doesn't have the option of staying home and chugging Mountain Dew.

So why not do just that and donate the price of those plane tickets to charity? Literally everyone wins.

You can read more from Mark at Zug and McSweeney's Internet Tendency.

For more ways we're screwing everything up, check out 5 Government Programs That Backfired Horrifically and 5 Government Programs That Backfired Horrifically.

And guess what? We've made donating to charity super easy, also. Just click here, donate and we'll handle the rest.

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