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Giving in Times of Disaster: 5 Details to Consider

by Kelsey Gardipee | Aug 26, 2021 9:54:12 AM

By nature, Americans are rather generous. Amidst a pandemic and economic uncertainty, charitable contributions topped a record-breaking $471.4 billion in 2020, according to the Giving USA Report, written by the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at IUPUI. Of that staggering total, $324.1 billion was contributed by individual donors (and a very generous MacKenzie Scott). Even in times of our own need, Americans prove to be ready and willing to support others in greater need.

Whether you’ve watched the news daily or only skimmed headlines on social media recently, you’ve likely heard about the chaos resulting from the American withdrawal of troops in Afghanistan, the devastating 7.2 magnitude earthquake in Haiti, and the wildfires burning millions of acres across California and the Northwest. Every new disaster headline tugs at our heartstrings and drives many of us to do what we do best – help.

Even if all you have to give is $5, your gift will make an impact if you take a few minutes to research before submitting your donation. Here are a few things to keep in mind about disaster response efforts:

  1. Presence. Does the charity have an established presence in the area? A new organization, even with the best of intentions, may fall short of established charities with an existing presence and capacity to serve in a recently devastated area. If an organization doesn’t have the infrastructure to offer services in an area, immediately following a disaster isn’t an ideal time to expect a new organization to offer effective assistance.
  2. Experience. Does the organization have experience offering disaster relief? We’ve all perfected the art of the pivot but unless an organization has experience in disaster relief, it may not be the best equipped to deliver aid quickly and effectively.
  3. Practicality. Donation drives for clothing, food, and supplies are great for local needs but are highly impractical for far-away relief. Before gathering physical donations, realize that these contributions divert resources away from an organization’s ability to provide immediate relief. Financial donations are most effective and can be used right away.
  4. Clarity. What is the organization fundraising for? “To help victims” and other vague responses should not instill confidence. Pay attention to what the charity says they’ll do with the funds received and whether the money will be spent for immediate needs or long-term relief. Appeals should be clear about what relief services the charity will offer and where and whether they’ll be there to respond only to urgent needs or stick around to provide long-term recovery.
  5. Media. Donors and charities both agree that news media is the most influential source for disaster relief donors. However, the media’s emphasis on crowdfunding campaigns and celebrity appeals divert donations away from established and well-vetted charities, especially with younger donors, and not all fundraisers touted by the media meet BBB’s Standards. While the 24-hour news cycle may bring us up-to-the-minute coverage on emerging disasters, the media is often long gone before true rebuilding and recovery can begin. Before blindly giving to a fundraiser highlighted in the media, do your own research first.

It may feel like a new disaster appealing to donors arises every few months. From hurricanes, fires and floods to human rights atrocities and refugee crises, there is, sadly, always an emergent reason to give. However, we can make more of an impact when we give with intention and a little research. BBB Wise Giving Alliance does the work to take the guesswork out of giving – making it easy to give confidently. Start your search at BBB.org or Give.org to find out whether the charity you plan to support meets our 20 Standards for Charity Accountability.

For BBB Accredited Charities responding to the most recent disasters, see below for vetted lists of trusted charities that are responding to each issue:

Curious about donor attitudes towards disaster relief and the disconnects between donors and charities that can breed donor distrust? Check out the Give.org Donor Trust Special Report: Disaster Relief Donor Expectations.

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