Simplifying Humanitarian Aid with Direct Cash Assistance.

After recently returning from refugee settlements in Lesbos, Australia for UNHCR national director Naomi Steer explains why direct cash assistance is actually one of the most efficient and effective forms of humanitarian aid delivery.

It had been raining for two days at the Moira Reception Centre on Lesbos when I visited a few weeks ago. Asylum seekers and refugees, mostly from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, were struggling in the crowded conditions and flimsy dwellings, and were desperately asking to be moved to the mainland with better, more secure shelters.

It’s a tough place to live, and the influx of refugees has been a huge adjustment for locals on Lesbos, a Greek island that until recently was famous simply for its idyllic beaches and laid back lifestyle.

One of the few clear success stories for refugees and locals alike that I heard about on Lesbos is the cash assistance program. Administered by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), it’s a monthly cash payment, loaded onto a card, for refugees and asylum seekers, who would struggle to survive without assistance.

The amount is only a few hundred euros per month per family, and the exact amount depends on the size of the family. But it is enough to help people with the absolute basics.

The concept of cash handouts can be highly politicised in our own country, but it is actually one of the most efficient and effective forms of humanitarian aid delivery.

Asylum seekers and refugees can decide how to spend the cash, depending on the specific needs of their family. Aid agencies are saved the – often significant – expense of procurement, storage and distribution of essential supplies. And host communities benefit when the money is spent in their businesses.

Colleagues on Lesbos told me that the decision to deliver aid via direct cash assistance has helped smooth relationships with the locals as it brings money into the economy. Even several years since refugees began arriving in Lesbos, the local community remains generally supportive and sympathetic.

On a larger scale, direct cash assistance is becoming increasingly popular, and its use has grown dramatically in recent years. In 2016-2017, UNHCR reached 10.5 million vulnerable people across 94 countries with cash assistance. Targeted programs also employ cash assistance as a protection measure – along with other services – to prevent families being forced to resort to negative survival strategies such as child labour or early marriage.

In Jordan, increasingly sophisticated technology is being utilised and iris scans are now used at ATMs for Syrian refugees receiving cash assistance to ensure only the designated recipient can make a withdrawal. Not all refugees are eligible, just to most vulnerable, such as female-headed households, the elderly or people living with chronic illness or disabilities.

I’ve heard from mothers in the Middle East that the small amount of cash assistance they receive is what stands between them and becoming homeless or being forced to return to the warzone in Syria. They have told us how important it is for them to have the dignity of choosing how to spend the aid they receive – as mothers they know best what their children and the family needs most each month, whether it’s food, warm clothes, or medicine.

As the national director of a humanitarian aid charity, reliant on private sector donations, it’s also increasingly apparent to me that this is a system that delivers value for money to donors. On average, using direct cash assistance, 93 per cent of each dollar goes right to the families who need it most.

The reasons for using cash assistance can be more complex than other forms of aid – and it certainly doesn’t lend itself to dramatic PR photographs – but the benefits are immense, especially as technology develops, making it even simpler to distribute and monitor.

Top 3 ways to recognise and work with an engaged donor.

Ruth Jones on the characteristics of engaged donors (there are seven), the power of getting personal and what you should really be spending your time and money on.

Before we move into specifics, let’s talk about why we want engaged donors. After all, they are a lot more work, and everyone is pretty stretched for time as it is. We want them because once they are engaged, they are likely to be with you for the long haul.

Sometimes, reading the paper is depressing. Surrounded by difficult, possibly intractable issues, people feel a sense of helplessness.

What nonprofits give their engaged donors is a sense that they are part of something worthwhile and meaningful: that they can make a difference. That’s a great feeling. Research at Social Venture Partners showed that when people felt that their gifts were meaningful, they were more inclined to give more.


From my time working with a network of engaged donors, several characteristics were evident:

  • Social standing was not a driver of their involvement with an organisation or a cause
  • Many already had a pre-disposition to be involved in community activities
  • Equal numbers of men and women
  • They were already cognizant of societal issues around them
  • Most often, they were not from a background of inherited wealth, so were open to new ideas about how philanthropy should be practiced and how one might respond to social issues
  • Many had children: this was an important influence on their desire to be involved in philanthropy and volunteering
  • Being in the company of peers interested in the same topics is a big driver: the other key driver is getting close enough to understand and appreciate the approach that an organisation is taking.

Summing up then: people who are aware of what is going on in their community; have no preconceptions about what philanthropy is meant to look like, and are ready to learn and experiment; are conscious of passing on strong values and modelling good behaviour to their children; enjoy experiential, on the job learning, so to speak; and like to do so in the company of those who share their values.


When you consider the scale of the problems we see each day, and then consider the amount many people can give, it’s not hard to understand why people can feel helpless – that the amount they are able to give can’t make a difference anyway. Feeling part of a community of donors changes the equation. Alone, my contribution is a drop in the bucket – but a group of us? That’s a different story.

Being part of a community of engaged donors gives individuals the chance to engage their mindand connect with people who are working directly on the issues. That’s when giving stops being cerebral – because it’s the right thing to do – and starts becoming deeply personal.

Being part of a community of donors has an impact on people’s knowledge and understanding of social issues: it cements their commitment to philanthropy and pushes them to give more and do more. This often needs to be conveyed in this way to CEOs and Boards to help them understand.


During my time at Social Venture Partners, we had the benefit of working with a data analytics firm. Its research and analysis gave us an in-depth picture of our donors: their family, business and spiritual lives, annual household income, annual giving, level of education… We wanted to understand more about the people who were drawn to our engaged giving model.

The responses to our regular donor surveys and the data analytics study were anonymous but gave us information that strengthened program planning and implementation and informed communication: it gave us a good handle on people who might be drawn to our engaged model of giving and volunteering.

We also did occasional town hall style meetings with donors at which they were asked to comment on specific areas of our performance. Sometimes it turned out that something I thought was great, they didn’t care all that much about. What it reinforced was the importance of checking in regularly with donors to find out what they really think, rather than going with what I hoped – or wanted! – them to think.


  • Bring them together with their peers. The social aspect is important and here I don’t mean galas and extravagant events: I mean the opportunity to meet and spend time with people who also care about the issue
  • Educate them about the systemic issues you are dealing with: the more they understand, the more they commit. This can be a mix of experiential learning, mentoring and training
  • Offer them the opportunity to contribute their professional skills, too, if possible

Ruth Jones is a Specialist Philanthropy and Donor Engagement Consultant at The Xfactor Collective. Click here to read more about Ruth Jones.

To hear Ruth speak more on these topics, click on the links in the article or go to the ‘THE X-CHANGE’ youtube channel. You will also find many of the other specialist consultants from The Xfactor Collective community sharing their expert knowledge at THE X-CHANGE, which is growing from 50+ to 125+ short helpful videos over the coming few months. The Xfactor Collective is a community for social change-makers and game-changers, and includes a growing group of specialist consultants, a Concierge helpdesk service and other support services.

5 Tips For Your Most Successful Digital Year-End Campaign.

Some excellent tips from US fundraisers in relation to online End of Year fundraising campaigns.

Are you ready?

According to Network for Good, most nonprofits raise about 1/3 of their revenue in December. And 11% of their annual total during the last three days of the year.

Year-end is the easiest time to raise more money online! Think about it this way:

Your donors are more likely to give during the last weeks of the year than any other time of the entire year.

And because year-end is such an important time for digital fundraising, we want to give you 5 tips that will ensure a successful year-end for your fundraising.

# 1: Use the same message in every channel

Some of your donors are online, some aren’t. Pick your strongest message, then repeat it through direct mail, email, your website, and social media. It’s more powerful for your donors to see the same message in different media channels than it is for them to see two different messages.  Repetition is your friend!

# 2: Ask early and often

You’ve been talking to your donors all year about what your organization does, you’ve told them how they can help. So this time of year, don’t Thank them. Or Report to them. It might feel counterintuitive, but our testing showed that Thanking and Reporting this time of year will cause you to raise less money than you could. Follow the advice below and just Ask well!

# 3: Emphasize the deadline

A deadline communicates urgency. December 31 is a natural deadline — for the tax year and for your organization. Tell donors your deadline and repeat it multiple times in your messages.

# 4: Set a goal

How much do you want or need to raise? What would it take for you to meet your budget? Feed everyone you want to feed by year-end? Shelter abandoned pets through the end of the year? Overcome a financial shortfall? Tell your donors the goal.

We need to raise $XX,XXX by midnight, December 31.

# 5: Communicate consequences

What will happen if you don’t meet the goal? Connect the donor right to the heart of your work.

We need to raise $XX,XXX by midnight, December 31 or we will have to cut back on the number of pets in our shelter in the coming year.


We need to raise $XX,XXX by midnight, December 31 or we will not be able to advocate for the arts as effectively next year.

Whatever your organization does, if having less money means you would be able to do less next year, say so!

Most important tip? Start now!

We’ve built a Year-End Digital Fundraising Toolkit so that you can develop a successful year-end digital campaign. Buy it now and you’ll save time, raise more money, and have your best year-end ever!