Unfortunately disasters and their subsequent appeal for help seem to be happening all too frequently these days. From man made ones, like gun violence, to natural disasters, like large earthquakes, the mass amount of media coverage immediately following a disaster and the great amount of empathy the public shares can lead to quick decisions about how to help. These efforts, well intentioned though they may be, can be misinformed or misguided. Here are a few things to think about when trying to help following a disaster.
Crowd funding sites like GoFundMe or Caring Bridge often spring up quickly and can make it easy for someone across the world to donate to something that moves him or her. Many times, they’re set up by well wishing friends or family members, or even a little league team, but with this simplicity comes a few downsides, like these donations are not tax-deductible donations, and that these sites take a fee off the top. Also, while the individual or group that set up the page is generally a well-meaning friend, its possible that they can be set up by others trying to take advantage of public good will. Even if someone tied to the victims sets them up, there then becomes the huge challenge of how to distribute these funds. Large organizations also have to answer these questions, including the Red Cross (link to 9/11 fund challenge article), but these nonprofits are more likely to have policies in place to help serve those who are in need. And transparent reporting. Because of this, we suggest donating funds to an established organization, if you’re planning on sending money.
Established organizations have the benefit of not only having experience in distributing funds to those in need, but also will already have the supply chains, relationships, and channels into the community that are necessary to distribute services effectively and efficiently. Community based organizations are already deeply embedded in the community and don’t have to first create any policies, or build those relationships to identify the greatest need.
Organizations that provide disaster relief are well known in their ability to capitalize on the immediate goodwill because our attention spans are short, and a fresh news story can quickly make us forget the victims of the last one. Knowing this, we encourage clients to make a special effort to be there for the victims of whatever disaster that moves them, a week, a month, a year later. That when there is opportunity to be really impactful, when few others have thought about the long-term recovery phase. Harness your goodwill strategically; take action, but be strategic with your timing.
Regardless of the type of disaster, one of the best things we can do is draw together as a community, even if it’s not our community that was affected. Invite others over for a potluck to be together and talk. Organize a school fundraiser to model to your children that we live in a connected world and it’s our responsibility to take care of each other. But keep in mind, drives that generate goods instead of funding (like clothes or canned goods), can often be detrimental to relief efforts as they can clog supply chains. Only host drives at the request of an organization that can tell you exactly what they need.
While disasters are always just that – a disaster – we can learn from previous ones to be more strategic and impactful in how we might respond to the next one.
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