Joho the Blog » Trusted merchants

Trusted merchants

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.


As Frank Paynter points out in a comment, CharityWatch provides info about charities.


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.

You can give through MoveOn or directly through Oxfam.

5 Responses to “Trusted merchants”

  1. Buried deep in the comments on your earlier post is a link to a page that vets charities in general…

    http://www.charitywatch.org/hottopics/tsunami_asia.html

    Copying that link into your browser brings you to a list of charities. The charities they link to have online donation by credit card capabilities, and most offer the option to direct your contribution directly to South East Asian tsunami relief.

    Oxfam, the Mennonite Central Committee, and the American Friends Service Committee are three groups that I trust unreservedly to do the best work with the resources we give them.

  2. Well put re the trust issue. I had a very tough time selecting organizations to include in my first post Sunday. http://www.paidcontent.org/pc/arch/2004_12_26.shtml#011710 I left off the International Red Cross/Red Crescent because of the exclusion of Magen David Adom as a member for the use of the red Star of David as a symbol. I didn’t want to politicize the occasion or distract from the mission by explaining it so just left it off the list. Keenly aware of some issues surrounding 9/11 fundraising, I almost left off the U.S. Red Cross because of its general fund policy but decided just to explain it. I put Doctors Without Borders first in the list, then included Oxfam and AmeriCares.

    Personally, I waited until the organizations had established separate funds, then donated to those funds at Magen David Adom and Doctors Without Borders. I’m also looking for some organizations in the affected countries.

    BTW, the Better Business Bureau also maintains a site on charities. http://www.give.org/

  3. Not to distract from the very important effort of providing aid to the tsunami victims…

    …but your thinking on how you decide who you want to send donations to, is a great description of how reputation, trust, and ultimately, identity, work on the internet.

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    As JOHO notes, before cutting a check for Pastor Bob’s Parish, you’d want a recommendation no more than one hop along the buddy-list; colour me suspicious by nature, but I’m likewise hesitant to hand my aid donations to be proxied by the Big Names for

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