Disaster Relief……or just Relief

January 19, 2010

Like most people, I am visually drawn to action. I see the repeated images on CNN of post-earthquake/hurricane/tsunami hell that for my comfy urban existence seems unimaginable and my feelings of helplessness and privilege are stirred. Suddenly it seems the entire world starts moving and giving and you wonder if that money went to buying milk for the little boy you saw crying on CNN or if it paid for lunch at Masa for the CEO of whatever relief organization’s marketing tugged your heartstrings enough to cause you to break out your wallet.

I have long used Charity Navigator (http://www.charitynavigator.org/) as a starting tool for researching reputable places to donate money. This site tells you what percentage of donations go towards relief, administrative costs, fundraising, as well as the salaries of the organization’s executives.
There are many things to note when donating in the wake of a major disaster. This post at Good Intentions are Not Enough lists them much better than I ever could.

I will single out one very important of the article. When donating in the wake of a particular disaster, it is ideal if you do NOT specifically earmark the funds for that region. Often those funds get tied up in red tape, or the mass of donations received outweighs the immediate need and your money that could be used for assistance in another area is stuck. The Red Cross, 5 years later, has half a BILLION dollars in their Tsunami fund that has yet to be spent.

I am in the midst of organizing a donation program at work, with half the funds going to unearmarked organizations that are providing relief in Haiti and half going towards relief in other areas of the world that unrelated to any specific natural disaster need other types of assistance.  For some places and people in the world, daily life is a disaster in and of itself.

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