‘Impact of charity projects often unknown’

Most charity organisations have no insight into the impact of their projects, economist Frank Hubers of Erasmus University Rotterdam says. According to him, there is a lack of solid evaluation procedures. Programmes studied by Hubers include the introduction of Fair Trade criteria at gold mines in Ghana, which has led to mixed results. 

Hubers performed four empirical studies for his dissertation ‘Essays on the Determinants and Impact of Private Contributions to Public Goods’. Each of these studies contributes to our knowledge regarding the effectiveness of philanthropic initiatives. He will be defending his dissertation on Thursday 3 March at Erasmus University Rotterdam.

The doctoral candidate concludes that we still know very little about the impact of charity projects. A key reason for this is that determining the impact of a specific project is a very complicated affair. Many charity evaluation procedures are based solely on qualitative research methods, and lack a credible ‘counterfactual’ (i.e. what would have happened if a project had not been implemented). In many cases, this may lead charities to assess the impact of their activities as being stronger than it actually is.
While it is complicated to make a solid evaluation of a charity project’s impact, it is not impossible. Nevertheless, to assess the effects of a programme, researchers will need to adopt an experimental or quasi-experimental design.

Impact of Fair Trade criteria in Ghana
The four empirical studies make use of experimental and quasi-experimental designs to examine the impact of specific interventions. For example, in one of his studies, Hubers evaluated the impact of the Fair Trade criteria on the gold sector in Ghana. Fair Trade certification was recently expanded to include the gold trade – an industry infamous for its negative effects on workers’ health and on the environment.
Basing himself on over 1,900 interviews with miners from ten different gold mines, Hubers demonstrates that these sustainability criteria have had both a positive and negative impact. The miners’ health has improved and the percentage of children who go to school has increased. But on the other hand, the miners also pay a price for all these investments in health care and education: the criteria appear to have had a negative effect on the workers’ income.

Another study shows that showing young people images of poverty and social inequality has a positive effect on their willingness to donate money. School students aged 12 to 16 were invited to play games with which they could win money. Before starting the game, approximately half the participants were shown a video dealing with poverty and inequality. The participants who had watched a video gave away considerably more to their unknown fellow players, as well as donating more money to charity. 

Effect on donors
Also, the results of philanthropy are clearer for the donor than for the beneficiaries of these charitable efforts. In many cases, philanthropy is actually motivated by self-interest – also known as ‘impure altruism’. People give money to charity to feel better about themselves or less sad/guilty about a specific situation. In economic jargon: people derive benefit from giving to charity. In other words, voluntary donations actually improve the donor’s situation.

About Frank Hubers
Frank Hubers (1982) obtained his master degree in Cultural Anthropology (cum laude) in 2006 from Utrecht University, after which he rounded off a dual master programme in International Development Studies at Radboud University Nijmegen in 2008. From 2008 to 2010, Hubers worked in Oxfam Novib’s Quality and Control department, where he was involved in the evaluation and monitoring of development projects. In September 2010, he joined Erasmus Centre for Strategic Philanthropy (ECSP) as a researcher, and in 2011, he started working on a doctorate from Erasmus School for Economics. Hubers currently works as an assistant professor at Webster University in Thailand.

More information

Press Office Erasmus University Rotterdam, + 31 10 408 1216 or press@eur.nl

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