4,500 new charities for Japan
Posted on March 17, 2011 at 7:19 am
A friend of mine has been working to register a nonprofit for several months now. She was just informed by the IRS that her application would have to wait because they’ve received 4,500 applications for new nonprofits to respond to the disaster in Japan.
I’ve not been able to confirm that number with the IRS, but it doesn’t surprise me that there would be a glut of new nonprofits registered. After the 2004 tsunami, one third of all nonprofits working on the tsunami recovery efforts in Thailand were started after the disaster.
Full disclosure: I also started a nonprofit in Thailand, however my organization did not deliver aid. Our work involved tracking all the aid coming into the area so everyone knew who was doing what where to decrease duplication of aid and find gaps in aid faster. The organization was started at the request of the government and other nonprofts.
I recently attended an event where the guest speaker had started over 35 nonprofits, including one that went to help in Thailand. While I’d met staff from his nonprofit in Thailand, we didn’t bother tracking them because they weren’t really accomplishing anything. But there he was encouraging everyone in the audience to start their own nonprofit as well.
Out of these 4,500 organizations – or however many have actually been registered to help in Japan – maybe 10 of them have the skills and experience to do the job well. The rest, like the “Socks for Japan” guy and the example above, do not. And some will be fraudulent. And for those that are genuine, immediately after a disaster – when people are at their most vulnerable – is not the time to learn through trial and error.
These new nonprofits are not needed. Well-established nonprofits with decades of experience in disaster relief and development are not being asked to help in Japan. They are currently just standing at the ready in case they’re called in to help later. And Japan has no shortage of smart, talented people and competent civil society organizations. It would be far better to give to an established local organization.
Donors need to be aware that post large-scale disasters are prime fundraising times. The easy money can cause charities to start projects even though they don’t have the experience or capacity to do the job right. Or they may raise funds for projects that are not actually needed.
Wanting to help is not the same as actually helping, and good intentions are not enough.
Update: An article in the Guardian actually titled “good intentions are not enough” discusses an all volunteer aid group getting kicked out of Japan.