(An expanded version of this post originally appeared at www.philanthropywriting.com.)
With the earthquake and tsunami in Japan mere days behind us and the scale of the devastation still unknown, you—like me—may be feeling the urgency to do something, anything, to help. Before you pledge your next grant or make a contribution via text message, consider these tips for donating in times of disaster.
1) Wait before you donate. When it comes to giving in times of disaster, an immediate, emotional response is not always best. According to the Council on Foundations’ 2007 report, “Disaster Grantmaking: A Practical Guide for Foundations and Corporations,” grantmakers can do well by waiting a while to see what is needed after the relief agencies move on. Consider splitting the donation up, especially when giving larger amounts, to allot some for immediate relief and some for long-term recovery efforts.
2) Do your research. There are hundreds of organizations that respond to disasters. Do some homework before sending your donation. According to Saundra Schimmelpfennig on her blog, Good Intentions Are Not Enough, find organizations that have experience and a longstanding presence in the country where the disaster occurred, as they will likely be on the ground and best understand what is needed. You can find lists of organizations involved in the recovery efforts at:
3) Give to reputable organizations. It’s inevitable that a host of charities pop up whenever a disaster hits. Many of them will have the best intentions, but a few won’t. Be sure to donate to reputable organizations only—those with the track record and experience in the country in need. Some examples include the Red Cross, Save the Children, Doctors Without Borders, Global Giving, Mercy Corps, and The Salvation Army. Check out Network for Good for a list of many more.
4) Donate cash, not clothes or goods. Although your heart may be in the right place, donating clothes, goods, or food can actually hurt, not help, in a disaster. These packages often arrive far too late, are inappropriate, and can clog local ports, preventing critical items from getting through. Money is what’s needed the most.
5) Give unrestricted funds. Don’t limit your donation to certain items or areas. Charities need as much flexibility as possible as a disaster unfolds. If you’re a grantmaker, consider offering emergency funds or general operating support (as appropriate within your guidelines) to some of the reputable aid organizations in need of support.
6) Stay at home. You may think the most humanitarian thing you can do is get on a plane and show up to the disaster scene. Not so. Aid organizations only call on volunteers with specific skills and those trained in disaster response, and surprisingly few volunteers are actually needed. If you have the urge to volunteer, do so where you can really make a difference: in your own neighborhood. Help your community prepare for disaster through a local Community Emergency Response Team.
Elaine Gast Fawcett is a writer and communications consultant with Four Winds Writing