To sum up the do's and don'ts... Always give money, do not collect goods; because shipping the goods waste money and hurts the economy of the disaster area. When looking for who to give money too make sure the organization has prior experience in such a disaster. If you are considering how to help out Japan, give a look at the full list first at this link, our snippet includes the five of our favorites.
Do determine if the country is accepting international assistance
With all the photos and videos of destruction on the evening news, it may seem impossible that governments would not want outside assistance. However, just because there has been a disaster does not mean that the local government and local aid organizations are not capable of reaching and helping those in need. Before sending your donation find out what, if any, assistance the government is allowing. Check to see if the aid organization you’re considering donating to is offering that same type of assistance.
Do look at a variety of nonprofits before giving
There are hundreds of organizations that respond to most disasters, take the time to evaluate a few before giving. Also, just because they have name recognition does not mean they’re best able to respond to the disaster. Look for organizations that were operating in the country before the disaster, they will be able to respond quicker and know the local culture, politics, and needs better. Giving to local organizations is great, unfortunately they can be difficult to find and may not have a website or if they do it may not be in English.
Places to find lists of organizations involved in the recovery efforts include:
InterAction for many U.S. organizations
Reliefweb.int for organizations from many different countries
Dochas for Irish aid organizations
Do look for organizations with prior experience and expertise
There is a great deal of money after well publicized disasters. The ease of raising money makes it tempting to respond even if the organization does not have prior experience in that area. After the 2004 tsunami, many organizations with no prior experience built boats or houses. I attended one handover ceremony where the boats actually sank during the ceremony because they weren’t properly sealed. There is a steep learning curve when nonprofits move out of their normal area of work, this may lead to mistakes and wasted money. Make sure the organization has prior experience in their proposed projects.
Don’t donate to a project just because it’s “sexy”
Recovery projects that are inherently attractive to donors – such as orphanages or boats – are easier to fund but may not be what is most needed. After the 2004 tsunami orphanages were built in excess of what was really needed, I had an orphanage approach me looking for orphans to house. So much money was given to orphanages in Indonesia that some families resorted to abandoning their children at the orphanages because they could not feed and clothe them. It would have been far better if the donations had supported the family so they could care for their children themselves. Boats were also heavily funded leading to far more boats built than were actually lost and a real concern for over fishing.
Don’t take up a collection of goods to send over
After the tsunami tons of used clothing were donated, much of it inappropriate to the climate and culture. There were winter hats, coats and gloves donated to southern Thailand and mountains of donated clothing dumped beside the road in India. Donated goods can clog ports and prevent more critical relief items from getting through. Ports can only hold and process so many goods and often the port authorities have difficulty sorting through everything arriving to get it processed and out the doors. Please do not take up collections of medicine, clothing, baby formula, or food for shipment, or show up on your own to hand out money or goods. Although well intentioned, this can actually make the situation worse as it adds to the confusion, diverts resources, and may lead to aid dependency.