Thursday, October 06, 2005

Adventist Development & Relief Agency

Third in my High Holy Days series on charities, I would like to recognize the Adventist Development & Relief Agency International (ADRA). When thinking about the problems of the world at large -- poverty, hunger, disease, lack of education, disaster relief -- it can seem overwhelming. And many nobly-intended organizations that try to take on the world's problems can indeed be overwhelmed, by beng spread to thin, or getting bogged down in inefficiency. One of the tangential benefits of "marrying into" the Adventist Church is that I became aware of ADRA, an organization that does an admirable job of "changing the world, one life at a time". Following the old saw about giving a man a fish versus teaching him to fish, ADRA invests heavily in the latter. They have five "core portfolios": food security, economic development, primary health, emergency management, and basic education. In the food security portfolio, ADRA provides a combination of immediate short-term food relief in stricken areas (such as western Africa), along with seeds, tools, and training in better farming techniques for longer-term benefit. In the area of economic development, ADRA has had great success with "micro-loan" programs, helping people throughout Asia and Africa lift themselves up from a hand-to-mouth subsistence to running self-supporting and growing businesses. In many of these places, a loan of as little as $50 can provide sufficient investment for one person to start his or her own business. In primary health, ADRA works through immunizations, clean water and sanitation programs, community-based health services and health education. In emergency management, ADRA is often already "on the ground" when disaster strikes. When the tsunami struck last year, ADRA already had people in Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Indonesia through existing programs and was well-positioned to provide short- and long-term relief. In the area of basic education, ADRA works to build schools, provide supplies, and train teachers from Mongolia to Mali.

When we give our money to ADRA, we know that it will be well spent. As of their last annual report (2004), ADRA channeled 92.3% of their expenses to direct programs, with only 6.7% administration and 1% on fundraising. Their cost to raise funds is only 1 penny on the dollar! When the tsunami struck, ADRA was almost always near the top of lists of recommended charities. CharityNavigator gives them four stars for organizational efficiency.

A technical note on organizational capacity: CharityNavigator gives them three stars overall, and only two stars for organizational capacity. I think that lower score is a quirk of looking at the particular years 2000-2003 to calculate the score, where there were higher expenses in 2002, followed by a slight decrease in revenue in 2003. But even looking at those four years, one can see slow growth, as well as an organization that manages to its means. Their annual numbers look better to me than a "peer" charity that got a higher score using CN's formula. Moreover, the score should improve significantly when CN updates with the 2004 numbers, in which revenue grew from $74M to $104M. Looking at the overall picture, I see an organization that has grown significantly over the long term, is still growing, and manages its expenditures pretty closely to match its revenue.

If you wonder where to start solving the world's problems, think about giving a donation to ADRA.

1 comment:

The Cultural Adventist said...

I hope you don't mind. I've linked to you as a "Cultural Adventist" on my blog. Know anyone else I should add?