In times of crisis, Americans consistently show their generosity, opening their hearts and wallets in the aftermath of major natural disasters like hurricanes, earthquakes, wildfires and equally devastating manmade disasters—both at home and abroad. According to the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, almost half of Americans reported giving money to charities for disaster relief after Katrina, and almost three-fourths donated after Sept. 11, 2001.
But giving to disaster victims poses its own set of problems. How will charities deliver much-needed supplies to areas with badly damaged infrastructure? Is there a long-term recovery plan? Is the aid going directly to victims? If you want to make sure your money is going where it can do the most good, consider the following next time you donate to a disaster-relief effort:
Research to Find Reputable Charities
When it comes to giving, you should always thoroughly vet the organization. It’s even more important to do your research in the wake of a major tragedy when fraudsters are likely to try to take advantage of people’s compassion. Seek out highly reputable organizations that are experienced in disaster aid with deep ties to the community and a record of working with governmental agencies. Be sure the charity is clear about whether it plans to use your donation for a specific cause or lump it into a general fund.
Not Sure What to Give? Money is Usually Best
In times of crisis, monetary donations rather than food, clothes or household items are usually your best bet, allowing organizations to direct the money exactly where it needs to go without putting pressure on broken infrastructure or displacing more-urgent shipments. Transparency is paramount. Look for charities with “room for more funding,” meaning they can identify how the aid will be used.
When Steven Tonkinson, a 2016 Invest in Others Award finalist, began volunteering with ShelterBox in 2009, he was initially drawn to the organization—which provides shelter in the aftermath of a disaster—for its transparency. “I had just finished raising $10,000 and running the D.C. Marine Corps Marathon for a lung cancer charity in honor of my grandmother, but something was wrong,” Steven said. “I was frustrated because after all that effort, I never knew how the money was used and how much actually went to research for a cure. As a donor, I could appreciate ShelterBox clearly informing me for whom (which disaster) and how (emergency shelters and vital aid) my donation was making a difference. They also would send trained volunteer response teams to make sure the aid was being delivered to those most in need.”
Remember Older Disasters
From hurricanes to wildfires and manmade tragedies like terrorist attacks and gas explosions, one disaster can quickly give way to the next. When disaster strikes, 80% of aid is donated within the first fewdays. But the needs of the people impacted by a crisis persist for months and years, even though the media has disappeared. Consider giving to a cause that has faded from the headlines—or one that, for whatever reason, never made front-page news. In some situations, survivors have formed their own charities—like One World Strong, founded by survivors of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing to support worldwide victims of terror. Supporting these causes provides a meaningful way to keep these causes alive in the minds of the public.
You can’t prevent the next tragedy, but you can help control the response. By being thoughtful and carefully allocating how you spend your resources, you’ll go a long way toward helping communities recover, rebuild and rebound from tragedy.