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Corruption and Giving – Advice from India United

December 20, 2008

india-unite-finallogo-2I was checking out IndiaUnite, a blog set up after the Mumbai attacks to coordinate reports, charity efforts, and advocacy activities.   It seems like their main audience is in India, because I noticed this tidbit in a post entitled What We Do Now:

-DO NOT DONATE IN CASH!! Make all the donations in kind, if we give cash then thats only another reason we’ll have for our next protest rally!

I imagine this advice stems from concerns about corruption, which leads me to think about giving to South Asia in general.  Many South Asian Americans send money back to their home countries, either as remittances to family members or through charities.  My concern about IndiaUnite’s advice is that it is not always efficient to give in-kind – individual donors don’t always have the best insights into what items are needed (clothing, equipment, food, etc.) and cash can be put to better use.

International charitable giving is one of my own research interests because as a former tax attorney, I am always interested in the types of incentives our government grants for various activities – like the individual charitable deduction, which extends only to 501(c)(3)s in the U.S.  Many legitimate U.S. charities do work internationally and distribute money to South Asia, but how do we ensure that corruption doesn’t get in the way of our own best intentions?  Government oversight and regulation is one answer – but is that oversight best handled in the U.S. or in the recipient countries?  And with the growth of India’s economy, as this Forbes article reports, is corruption an increasing problem or one that will go away with good business (and charitable) practices?

Do any of you give funds directly to South Asian charitable causes or work with U.S. nonprofits that do?  What types of controls do you have in place to combat corruption?

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