What Makes A Good Cause Good?

DSCF5662 resized.jpg

If you’re a regular donor to Traidcraft Exchange or another charity, the idea of getting the best value for your money may have crossed your mind a few times. 

This is completely understandable, as we all like to see our money go as far as possible – in an era of price comparison websites and companies vying for attention, trust in where we’re putting our money is more important than ever. 

Drilling down to the core efficiencies behind the money donors put in and the effectiveness of the end result has become the passion of those in the Effective Altruism community. This growing network has the goal of making the most effective donations possible, using data-driven research to do the most good per pound spent. 

This begs the question: should charities be judged solely by this kind of metric… or is there something deeper to consider? 

The long route 

This ‘bang for your buck’ way of viewing charitable donations is an excellent principle – but in practice it can be hard to work with for a lot of charities whose work is long term. 

At Traidcraft Exchange, for instance, our focus is on creating lasting change through the power of trade – and instant value for money for our donors doesn’t always become apparent, as we take the long route towards improving lives in the long term. Our work is effective, but the value grows over time. 

Take, for example, our work with more than 5,000 tea growers in Bangladesh. We helped them to start collectives, negotiate for better prices and improve their farming practices through training in leaf cultivation. The result of this was that growers received a much higher price for their leaves – in Bangladesh, their incomes were 110% higher after our work brought about change. 

This change didn’t come easily. It took time, expertise and negotiation - and the full value of the work hasn’t yet been realised. It’s likely that tea growers will benefit from higher earnings and better support networks for many years to come.  

The direct approach 

An alternative approach to what we do at Traidcraft Exchange is the practice of direct giving, where donors give directly to people in the Global South via cash transfer. This approach is championed by Effective Altruism – and it certainly has an immediate impact on poverty. 

Generally this direct giving approach can be quite effective – the reason we work hard to help people increase their earnings is because we know that cash is an effective form of poverty relief! 

But when weighing up how you want to give to charity, ask yourself this question… would you rather receive a one-off cash transfer, or see your wages doubled for years to come? 

Which feels more empowering? Which does the greater good? 

Sowing seeds 

We believe a more holistic approach is needed – cash alone isn’t enough. That’s why we’re at the forefront of changing the very circumstances trade is conducted in. Our policy work, supported by charitable donations, exists to get people living in poverty a fairer deal from trade at the highest echelons, creating fairer laws and business practices which will change the lives of people for generations to come. These long-term projects won’t immediately bear fruit, but instead aim to lay down roots for a brighter future. 

We understand nothing happens in a vacuum – so as well as helping poor people to increase their skills, we change the systems that play a part in keeping them poor and through our campaigns bring people together to fight injustice where we find it. 

As a smaller charity, we look after every penny donated, and we aim to be as efficient as possible to make you proud of the things we do with your money. 

Maybe the first step to trusting us to do good things with your donations, is to trust us with your email address… 

Dom Partridge