I got an email from a stranger asking where he should donate money for tsunami victims. I sent him the urls to the donation pages up at Amazon and Google. I didn’t send him to Wikipedia. Apparently, for this type of information I trust a top-down source more than a bottom-up one.
Wikipedia does its best to discourage trust on this topic, and appropriately so:
Due to its open and collaborative nature, Wikipedia cannot guarantee the veracity of outside links or the absence of possible scams involving charities, thus the potential danger of fraud exists. In particular, please beware of organizations that have names similar to those of well-known aid agencies.
In a situation like this – especially since I’m responding to a stranger – I want a source whose intentions I trust 100% and whose research I can trust to be responsible. I trust Amazon because I trust Jeff Bezos. I trust Google because overall they’ve shown themselves to be interested in making the world a better place. (We can argue about the exceptions later.)
I find institutions to be much more trustworthy than individuals in this regard. If a friend told me I ought to contribute to Bob’s Missionary because they’re do such great tsunami relief work, the tie between my friend and Bob would have to be tight – almost first-hand – before I’d donate.
Reliance on branded authorities leads to more money going to the Big Brand philanthropies at the expense of smaller, more local efforts that may be more efficient and effective. But in a big world that has tricksters and con artists, trusted institutions can be a necessary intermediary.
FWIW, we gave to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent; I didn’t do “due diligence.” We routinely give to Oxfam, but I didn’t know how well set up they were for dealing with this particular disaster. We like Oxfam because of its programs for long-term, sustainable development of local resources – water projects, etc.
I also trust MoveOn.org in this type of situation, and they’ve just sent an email suggesting that we give to Oxfam, which is already one of my very favorite organizations:
Our friends at Oxfam are already scrambling on the front lines to fight off starvation and disease — and beginning to rebuild. Because Oxfam has worked for years with grassroots groups in the hardest hit areas, they were able to mobilize local leadership to help survivors immediately after the tsunami hit. And Oxfam will be there for the long-term, helping communities recover and regain their ability to meet basic needs. Oxfam needs to raise $5 million immediately to provide safe water, sanitation, food, shelter, and clothing to 36,000 families in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and India. Your contribution can make this possible.
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