UNICEF offers you the chance to buy measles vaccines for 100 children for $27.10. And lest you complain that you’ve heard this one before, it assures you specifically that “While other organizations allow supporters to purchase ‘symbolic’ gifts, Inspired Gifts are actual items.”
Is this finally the “real personal connection” donors have been waiting for?
We can’t say for sure. Unlike Kiva, UNICEF provides no information about where the money goes and what projects are in progress. But we can ask a few critical questions:
- There are many costs for vaccination programs besides the vaccines themselves. Who is paying these costs?
- If some other party puts up the “fixed costs” for a given campaign (labor, logistics, etc.), but UNICEF’s catalogue only “sells” 1/2 the needed vaccines, will the other 1/2 of the relevant population go unvaccinated?
- Or will other sources of funds cover the remaining need, making the cost of the campaign essentially fixed? If this is the case, in what sense is the donor “buying” the vaccine?
Our guess is that UNICEF has a large pool of funding allocated to these campaigns, aside from the money that comes in through “Inspired Gifts” (which seems to be paying for very small numbers of items). We would guess that UNICEF will “officially” match up donations through the “catalogue” vehicle to, for example, vaccines while shifting its other funds from vaccines to delivery costs.
Why does all of this matter? Because UNICEF is advertising immunizations for 27 cents apiece. In reality, it almost certainly costs more than that – all things considered – to deliver a vaccination. That would make this another case in which a charity misleadingly zooms in on “your” money rather than considering all costs – a subtle, but substantive, donor illusion.
There’s no smoking gun, though, because there is no transparency.