Over the past 12 years working in nonprofit and private sector international aid, spending quite a bit of time embedded in benefiting communities, my teams and I have developed a thorough protocol for how we approach our work and relate to our beneficiaries.

When I began traveling into rural, developing regions, I quickly got a sense that a lot of the charity work I came across was just "off" in some way. Some of the (well-meaning) people doing the work were celebrating the wrong things, and there were nonfunctioning projects everywhere — more than there were functioning projects.

I lacked the maturity and self-awareness to identify that discomfort at the time, but I've since been able to clarify these issues — with the help and support of many aid beneficiaries and sector colleagues.

We all mean well when choosing to support an international organization, and we can all be better philanthropists with a little extra information and context for our giving choices.

One of the most frustrating parts about working in international aid is the overall lack of focus on results over time. We have created a false notion that once the building, the well or the garden is built, the project is a success. I've been beating this drum for years, and I'm not alone.

Infrastructure is only one piece of the solution. It's actually no solution at all if it's not accompanied by proper training on maintenance and operation of that infrastructure. Developing countries, particularly in rural regions there, often have abandoned and sometimes broken-down buildings, wells and other infrastructure that was not even put there by the local population.

The point here is that it's wonderful to know that contributions are going to make a tangible difference for the benefiting community. But it's both wonderful and responsible to understand that this investment will last over time and needs to be appropriately managed and maintained.

  • Don't send boxes of goods.
  • Don't make yourself the hero.
  • Do let the experts do their jobs.
  • Do defer to the beneficiaries.

Read the full article about international aid by Sarah Evans at Forbes.