This is a guest post by Laura De Giorgis, a senior associate in resource development at Accion, an organization committed to making high-quality, affordable financial services accessible worldwide. Prior to working at Accion, Laura was a Mama Hope Global Advocate and partnered with grassroots NGO Common River in rural Ethiopia, raising $30K to launch a sustainable animal husbandry and poultry training and employment program for local women.
While I was working with the NGO Common River in Ethiopia through Mama Hope’s Global Advocate program, a generous donor decided to collect donations, instead of presents, for her birthday. She reached out to inquire whether we had a concrete project that she could fundraise for.
We consulted with the program’s staff and decided it would be great for her to raise $1,600 to fund one new Jersey cow. This Jersey cow would help expand the opportunities for community members in our Animal Husbandry and Poultry Training and Employment Program.
When I sent the suggestion along, it was obvious to me to include a simple quantitative breakdown of the purchase, as well as the return on investment. I thought I could show her the financial benefit of the cow purchase, and voila—she’d feel her donation was worthwhile. It looked like this:
- A Jersey Cow costs between 37,500 Ethiopian Birr, which is about $1,625
- One such cow gives about 20 to 25 liters of milk a day
- One liter of milk is sold for 5 Birr in town
- The daily increase in income due to this newly purchased cow could be as much as 125 Birr
- In terms of program costs, that daily milk yield of one cow would cover ¼ of one program participant’s monthly stipend
It only took me two hours to run back to my computer in a panic.
What had come over me? Since when did I feel that a simple mathematical equation would suffice to exhibit the genuine, human impact of a donor’s contribution? Our donor, who I know well, is a kind, emotion-driven individual, not an excel spreadsheet that responds positively to mathematical equations.
The Crossroads Between Statistics and People
We stand at the intersection between largely antiquated methods of development, where numbers determine the success of project or contribution, and a new focus on human-centered development. In human-centered development, people are central and worth more than their role in a mathematical equation.
What does the financial breakdown listed above truly mean for the people in Aleta Wondo, Ethiopia? Yes, the program’s income would increase. But how would that ultimately affect the people involved? What larger impact would the donation play in enabling our program participants to lead more dignified and fulfilled lives?
When relaying the impact of your donors’ support, look beyond just the math and the finances. A spreadsheet may prove that you are handling your finances wisely, but what can that tell you and your donors about the integrity, dignity, and honor of the people you’re impacting?
Here is how I should have went on to explain the impact of one Jersey Cow:
Now, a young mother will have the ability to install electricity in her home, enabling her daughters to help with the household chores and still be able to finish any homework after dark. While she used to come home downtrodden, now she walks through the country lanes with shoulders upright, proud of her ability to utilize her animal husbandry skills to earn income for her family.
People Getting to Know People
This was not the first time that I caught myself focusing so hard on just the numbers that it blinded me to the people we served. As I wrapped up my time at Common River in December 2016, I made sure to set aside an hour with two program participants. Despite the language barrier, I was eager to learn more about them as individuals, as mothers, as community members.
I remember sitting at my desk outlining the questions I would ask them. These would satisfy my desire to learn more about these women, but would also serve as integral parts of my next blog post chronicling the impact of our program. I asked a number of routine questions before asking the seemingly mundane: “How many children do you have?” Bizunesh and Zelalem, the two participants, gave answers typical of the rural Ethiopian town: eight and six, respectfully.
I felt my mouth open to ask the next question, when Bizunesh interjected. Why hadn’t I asked for the names of her children?
I was speechless. I had gotten so caught up in fitting these women into regional demographics on fertility rates, that I had forgotten to treat them as individuals, as mothers. These women’s lives are not just statistics to share with donors. I felt ashamed and listened as Bizunesh beamed with pure joy listing her children’s names.
Our program participants are not just numbers in my notebook and expenses in our program’s budget, but rather individuals with unique stories of love, life, and challenge. Don’t be afraid to tell these stories to your donors. These personal narratives will uphold the dignity of your program beneficiaries and ultimately allow donors to feel connected.
Your donors are just as human and emotion-driven as you are. Cater to that instinctive human desire to connect, share, and love. Share stories, not spreadsheets—it will bridge the gap between donors and program participants, highlighting the common humanity in us all.