Where does my dollar go? Direct cash assistance is one way you make an impact with Plan

September 1, 2023
By Catherine Rolfe
September 1, 2023
~6 min read

When you give to Plan, your donation can get transformed into lots of different things — maybe it becomes a school uniform, so that a girl can get her education. Maybe it takes the form of a streetlamp, lighting the path that girl takes home from school and keeping her safe. Or maybe, in some cases, it barely transforms at all.

Here’s what we mean by that last one: Plan often provides flexible cash assistance directly to girls and their families, so that they can buy whatever they need. It’s an especially useful method in the wake of an emergency, when people need support quickly. After an earthquake, or in a refugee camp, people’s needs can vary drastically from family to family, and cash assistance is a flexible solution.

So, rather than using your donations to buy something like soap for an entire community, this type of support allows your gift to be used where it’s needed most. One family might need soap; another might instead need to spend the money on transport to a doctor’s appointment, or on period products for their teenage daughter.

“Flexibility is a great benefit,” Plan USA Vice President for Humanitarian Programs Frank Manfredi says. “Cash and voucher assistance can also be more efficient, cost-effective and faster to program than physical distribution of commodities. It can also help stimulate the local economy in the wake of a crisis or emergency.”

[Read: Manfredi appointed Plan VP for humanitarian programs]

Letting the recipient decide how to spend the money they receive is also a way to show respect, demonstrating we understand that people know their own needs best. But how do we know that people aren’t spending their cash on nonessential items, like alcohol or tobacco?

Well, it’s simple: Research shows that, by and large, people use cash assistance exactly the way you’d hope they would. Families buy food and hygiene items, and pay rent and medical bills. In fact, one World Bank review of multiple cash transfer programs found no statistically significant increase in expenditures on alcohol and tobacco.

Plan’s cash-based programming also includes orientation on use of cash, guidance on impermissible uses of cash and post-distribution monitoring to ascertain how they used the cash. This monitoring includes reminders if recipients report uses that are not permitted.

In addition to multipurpose cash assistance, your gift might also support voucher assistance for families in need. In this case, Plan makes arrangements with local vendors and provides participants with vouchers for specific items or relief commodities (for example, food or hygiene kits).

One hand passes a piece of paper with a bar code on it to another hand, while a small child with bangs watches in the background.
Cash assistance was part of Plan’s support for Ukrainian refugees who fled to Romania in 2022. Each family received 600 Lei, which is the equivalent of about $132.

“While not as flexible as cash, vouchers are a good way to target specific areas of need and they can mitigate the risks, including safety and security, that might be increased with cash programming,” Frank explains.

For example, people who have just received cash assistance might become targets to others looking to steal their funds. In this situation, vouchers are harder to steal and use fraudulently, because they might require the user to present identification.

When time is of the essence, providing either cash or voucher assistance is sometimes the fastest way to get help to people in need; instead of waiting for Plan to gather resources, families can use the money to go out and buy them immediately.

Sanoussi, a father living in Mali, says the flexibility of Plan’s cash assistance has made a big difference in his community. Hunger and conflict have forced more than 375,000 people like him in Mali to flee home and start over again somewhere else.

[Read: Photo story: Black tea for dinner]

“The cash we received was really useful,” he says. “We prefer cash assistance to food assistance, because with cash we can afford a lot of things, but with food assistance it is really complicated. For example, if we’re given a 50kg bag of rice or millet, often it doesn’t come with oil, so there are other problems, [like] expenses related to vegetables, firewood.”

An African man stands with two black and white goats, one hand on each, as the goats eat from a bowl on the ground. They are standing on an outdoor patio with a dirt floor, partially covered by a wooden roof and surrounded by piles of bricks.
Sanoussi, a father of eight, bought goats with the cash assistance he received from Plan.

Sanoussi noted that different members of his community used the assistance they got from Plan in different ways.

“Thanks to this cash, the most vulnerable were able to buy food,” he says. “There are also some people who bought animals to breed, in the hope of seeing them reproduce, in order to sell them later for profit. There are some who took the cash to treat their children who were sick at the time. We also used the money to motivate our children to go to school, because some of them refuse to go without lunch and snack money.”

[Read: How to keep girls from dropping out of school]

Aïssata, an 18-year-old in Mali, used the cash assistance she got from Plan to start a business selling juice and snacks. Here’s what she had to say about her experience, in her own words:

“I am Aïssata, I’m a saleswoman. I started my business three months ago. As far as my education is concerned, I went to school until the sixth grade. But because of insecurity, I couldn’t continue.

A young African woman smiles at the camera while holding a handful of a light brown substance. She wears a pink headscarf, a black short-sleeved blouse and a blue and yellow patterned skirt.
Aïssata, 18, shows a handful of crushed ginger, one of the ingredients she uses to make juice.

“We came here not long ago … My father and sister were taken away. I was in Dougasa, and there they abducted my uncle who I was staying with. Here, I am with my aunt Aminata, she’s my father’s little sister. At the moment, it’s the business that allows us to get by. Otherwise, we have a problem with water and food. But thanks to the business, we manage to buy rice and other things for cooking.

“We ran away from suffering to take refuge here. This is where the project found us. We were identified and trained. After the training, they gave us money. I received the cash by mobile transfer. … We bought the materials, and they came to check and encouraged us to continue. And this is what we are doing now. I started with this because the money I received allowed me to do it. If I get more support, I will continue with this business.

“Honestly, I earn a lot with this business. I meet all our expenses with the profits. … Before receiving this support, I used to do laundry and cleaning in people’s houses to get some money for our needs. After doing the laundry, I could not do anything else, because it was very tiring … But every morning, I had to go and do it to have some money for the evening meal.

“It was the war that forced us out to come here. We didn’t take anything with us. We left everything behind. When we arrived, to get food, some of us were washing plates, others were cleaning people’s houses. What we earned at people’s homes was what we took home in expenses. … Frankly, they [Plan] helped us.

“Today I am happy. We ask them to help us more so that we can continue working. My friends who have not been able to benefit from this program complain about their conditions every day. They envy me, but I encourage them to fight, because everyone has a chance.”


This is the type of transformational change you can inspire when you give to Plan’s humanitarian response work. And, with more supporters like you, we can support more people like Aïssata and Sanoussi around the world.