By Natasha Verkley
Year after year, Cuenca receives accolades as one of the best destinations to retire in the world. It is easy to see why. Overall the city is beautiful, clean, affordable and safe. Once here, expats are welcomed into the community, providing a multitude of ways to enjoy the city.
Many expats have stories of how they were helped by a friendly local or welcomed into a Cuencano family. These experiences of kinship lead many gringos to give back or volunteer in organizations that make a difference in the local community.
As with many things in expatriating, differences exist between how each country categorizes its social organizations, their allowed scope of work, and how they report to various local, provincial and federal governmental agencies. Alongside these more technical differences, gringo’s often notice variance in how organizations are managed, what type of programs are offered, and how volunteers are used from what they know “back home”. Many of these differences can be attributed to the way each culture views social work, what constitutes a positive change, and what is the “best way” to help. These vary widely from country to country, and organization to organization.
Regardless of these differences, many expats agree that volunteering and giving back provides an excellent way to make friends and get involved while helping their new community. With recent articles suggesting the negative view some Cuencanos have about gringos, continuing to give back to the community is a great way that expats can help fight some of these negative views.
As with everything, a little “know how” and information can go a long way in helping to make for a positive experience for either the volunteer/donor and the Ecuadorian organization.
In the United States, and elsewhere in the world, being informed about where you give your hard-earned dollars or spend your spare time has become a full-time job for many foundation watchdogs that thoroughly vet and rate charities, such as Charity Navigator or Charity Watch. These organizations take a lot of the leg- and guess-work out of the equation for a potential volunteer/ donor.
Currently there are no independent organizations in Ecuador that vet and rate local charities or social organizations. There is one regulatory government body in Ecuador for all social organizations, the Ministry of Social and Economic Inclusion (MIES). Depending on the scope of work of the organization, other regulatory government bodies could include the Ministry of Education, Health or Environment. While MIES does require Foundations and other types of social organizations to submit financials and program planning it does not “rate” organizations based on program effectiveness, financial spending or transparency with their donors. This means that in order to be informed on where you’re giving your time or money will require a little more work on your part than just a simple Google search.
A good place to start is to schedule a meeting with someone from the organization you’re interested in. A face to face, on site conversation can tell you a lot about a potential group. Overall, you’re looking for open and forthright answers versus defensive avoidance ones. Honest organizations have nothing to hide and are happy to be asked questions and to share their mission, financials, and overall impact with their volunteers/donors. Four great questions to ask an organization before getting involved are:
- Social Registration Number
An organization with an Ecuadorian Social Registration number assures you that you are dealing with a legalized and registered institution in Ecuador.
This number also allows you to verify which type of social organization it is and what Ecuadorian law allows them to do. You can search any organization by name here: http://www.sociedadcivil.gob.ec/directorio
- Organizational Mission
What you look for here is an alignment between what a charity says it does, what they ask your help to do and how much actual time and money is spent achieving these goals.
Does the charity actually do the things it tells you about in its solicitations for donations?
Use a “truth in advertising” principle, look for signs that the charity dedicates both money and staff time in ways that are consistent with what their stated mission is and how they represent themselves when seeking donations.
- Goals and Impact
Logic and plausibility reigns supreme here. Does the charity clearly explain what the problem is it intends to address and how it will do so?
An organization should be able to explain: how their work leads to results, how much work is required to produce results and evidence or data that demonstrates the work they are doing is, in fact, producing the desired result.
A legal organization should be able to show you some form of financials. In fact legal, social organizations in Ecuador are required to submit their books to the Ecuadorian IRS (SRI).
If these formal books aren’t available, an organization should at least be able to show you the funding allocated to their largest programs or projects. From here you should be able to determine if the funding allocation seems properly aligned with the charity’s mission.
While these four questions are by no means meant to be comprehensive, they do provide a great starting point for investigating an organization you are interested in getting involved with. Like most things in life, finding you perfect fit charity wise could take a couple tries but the effort is well worth the reward when it comes to the help and support you can provide an organization or person in need.
Natasha Verkley is Executive Director of the Hearts of Gold Foundation.
Hearts of Gold is a Cuenca-based Fundación started 4-years-ago by expats. It focuses on working together with existing Ecuadorian community organizations to help them deliver and administer their social services in an efficient, effective, and fiscally sound manner. Through fundraising, program design, and administrative support Hearts of Gold uses a variety of tailored services to leverage a partner organization’s needs through the power of teamwork. Various organizations receiving assistance from Hearts of Gold, other aid agencies, and ways that you can get involved will be explored in succeeding articles in CuencaHighLife. For more information please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or visit us online at www.heartsofgoldfoundation.org