Volunteer trips often bring donations for the communities that they visit. We are very grateful of this and encourage all trips to ask us what the best donations for this particular community are. However, it important to remember (especially as a trip leader) that the way in which you give out donations can be a very complicated process. It is impossible to give evenly to all community members, and to know the dynamics and relationships between members. For this reason, we encourage volunteers to give communal groups rather than individual gifts, and to think about how their gifts can inspire future change (rather than solving a problem).
That being said, we don’t want to just tell you what to do (or what to tell your volunteers). We want you to understand the bigger picture and the dynamics that your trip exists within. We have found the following exercises and rules to be helpful in getting to that point…
- A normal reaction to getting to a community is to begin giving immediately. Encourage your participants to wait for a week so that they can reflect on some of the following topics and so that they can get to know the community a bit.
- Try not to make rules about donations. Rather, encourage a critical thought process and talk it out with the group. Then, go ahead what you think feels right at the end of the trip.
One way to conceptualize the effects of donations is to put your group in the community’s shoes. Imagine that a visitor comes to spend time with your group for a few days. They won’t know the dynamics of your group, what life is like when they’re not there, or what your individual backgrounds and needs are. But, they’re excited to get to know you and they have something to offer.
Who Gets, and Why?
Knowing this, and knowing what you know about your group… How do you think that the visitor might make decisions about who gets what? Think about:
– Who do they give the gifts to? Would some members of the group be more likely to receive a gift than another? Why?
– What effects do the individual personalities have on who would get a gift.
– What role would extroverted, introverted, charismatic, reserved, open, war, confident, (and others?) etc. personalities have on the visitor’s decisions?
– Would they be able to know which of the members in your group needs it the most?
– How do they form their ideas about need? Is it based in the realities of the group? Or in what they understand from their own experiences?
– What would you want to have happen? What do you think the fairest way is for the visitor to give the gifts?
What lessons do you learn?
Another thing to think about is the lessons learned by the community when you give to specific individuals. In the situation where a visitor is coming into your group, what would you understand or what assumptions would you draw:
– When only certain people got gifts: What do you learn about yourself? What do you learn about the recipients?
– What kinds of assumptions do you draw about the visitor coming in?
What would future actions look like?
– The next time a visitor came to you group, how might you act? What expectations would you have about the visitor? Would you interact with the visitor differently? Would your personality change?
– What positives would come out of a return visit? What negatives might come out of a return visit?
What does it mean for donating?
In thinking about these questions, it is our hope that the group will then talk about potential issues and think critically about their ideas for giving. Each group will come to different conclusions based on the participants, the community and what there is to be donated.
(1) It’s better to give a hand up than a handout. Instead of simply distributing materials to meet immediate needs, donations should be made which allow long term sustainable benefits and not just momentary ones.
(2) It’s better to help groups of people rather than individuals. Individual giving has the potential to produce divisions within communities, while giving to groups can create unity and solidarity.
(3) Any support to individuals (e.g. scholarships) must be determined through a fair, objective, and transparent process that does not favor certain individuals or groups of people due to personal relationships or relations. Favoritism can compromise the goodwill of the organization and its standing in the community.