Choosing organizations to donate to after the Haiti earthquake
Posted on January 13, 2010 at 8:31 am
I’m opening this blog up to advice from aid workers to donors on choosing which organizations to donate to after disasters such as the earthquake in Haiti. What type of organizations should they look for and what should they avoid? I’ll compile the advice as it comes in and update this post often.
The situation after a disaster can be chaotic, with a rush of international, national, and local organizations as well as individuals trying to help. To understand what is happening and to make good donor decisions, please take a second to read through this blog. I also recommend looking at the guidelines, what NOT to do, and related posts before donating.
The sections in this blog post are in the following order:
- General advice to donors from aid workers
- Relief activities that I Do NOT Recommend
- Other blogs giving advice to donors on the Haiti earthquake recovery efforts (many written by aid workers)
- Related posts from other blogs (feel free to suggest more)
- Related posts from Good Intentions are Not Enough
- Suggested charities by aid workers can be found in their posts in section #3, reader suggestions can be found in the comment section.
1. General Advice to Donors from Aid Workers
1. Donate to organizations with an established presence, quickly. The ability to charter helicopters, buy tarps, and distribute water is eased considerably if the organization has cash in hand.
2. Work with organizations that have local staff in leadership positions and who are empowered to make quick decisions on the ground.
3. Work with organizations that partner with local social institutions, like houses of worship or community organizations. These groups’ social networks and language skills mean that they’re quickly able to identify specific problems and solutions, make lists of victims, and respond to traumatized populations in culturally-relevant ways.
- Author note – I agree with Texas in Africa that local connections and local staff are extremely important in both disaster relief situations and in general development work.
Two more bits of advice:
1) If you don’t already work for an agency that is responding to the disaster, DON’T GO TO HAITI.
2) If you don’t already work for an agency that is responding to the disaster, DON’T START YOUR OWN NEW ORGANIZATION.
- Author note – Agree with J. on what not to do. See Do NOT Recommend section below for more on this.
When an emergency strikes many people don’t necessarily have a lot of time/inclination to do a lot of due diligence since they want to do something immediately. Given this I think the best bet is probably to pick an organization that is well known (you have heard of it and have some idea what it does and it doesn’t have a bad reputation), that already works in Haiti and so has presence and contacts there, and one that has experience in dealing with emergency relief. Also you want one where you can easily and safely donate money.
My other advice would be to avoid the usual no-nos such as those seeking donations of goods rather than cash and those looking for volunteers.
There will be a need for funds past the immediate relief phase so it’s worth pointing out that there is a role for giving funds for immediate relief, but also for rehabilitation and reconstruction down the line – and that there is time to do due diligence – you don’t have to donate today.
- Author note -
I agree with the @ithorpe comments. Nonprofits that were established in the area before the disaster strikes have the staff, local knowledge, presence to be able to help quickly and efficiently. Those just coming in are going to take longer to get everything in place to start work and will need more time to develop local knowledge and contacts.
Agencies that are experienced in disaster relief and response will also have the knowledge, experienced staff, supplies, and procedures to be able to competently respond quickly.
I also agree that you don’t have to donate today. A lot of the money you donate now will be used for reconstruction later, there is also the risk that organizations will receive more donations than they can actually use effectively. They may not be able to scale up to do that amount of work. It may be wise to wait with some of your donation and see what programs need money later on.
In addition I recommend donating to community based organizations, they are already located in the affected area, are likely already helping, and have difficulty raising the funds they need because they are not well known. Unfortunately they can be hard to find – if anyone has a link to a list of community based organizations please share it.
Look for organizations that work together with local NGOs (Non Governmental Organizations) and communities, don’t treat those affected as helpless victims and ask people what they need. As soon as possible during relief, let affected people manage own situations, make own decisions, take ownership of own present and future. How relief is handled will determine in good part how recovery, reconstruction, rehab, development are handled. Get it right now.
I agree with @Meowtree. It is important to find charities that work with local people and support them in managing their own situation and making their own decisions.
2. Do NOT Recommend
Collecting donated goods
Don’t take up collections of donated goods to send over. Donated goods can clog up ports delaying other items from clearing quickly. They may also not be appropriate for the climate, religion or culture. Please do not take up collections of medicine, clothing, baby formula, or food for shipment.
Showing up to volunteer
I don’t recommend going into the area to volunteer. Even if you have a specialized trade such as a doctor or an architect your credentials may not be recognized in that country. In addition you may not find an international charity able to take you on for liability reasons and the fact that you don’t have prior disaster experience and training.
Taking over goods or money to hand out
Don’t go over there yourself with money or goods you’ve collected from friends and family. Although well intentioned, this can actually make the situation worse as it adds to the confusion, diverts resources, and may lead to aid dependency.
Giving to charities started immediately after the disaster
I do not recommend giving to charities that are started right after a disaster unless the founder has considerable development or disaster relief experience. While good intentioned, charities that do not understand disaster relief can get in the way of other relief efforts and makes coordination even more difficult than it is already.
Giving without verifying the organization is not a fraud
After the tsunami there were several fake charities created, in Thailand someone came around to one of the permanent housing area and took photos and then posted them as their own. Donors should verify that the nonprofit is real before giving. Google the exact name – be careful that they haven’t used a name that is almost identical to a well known charity – if the organization has been in operation for a while there should be other links to conferences their staff have attended, newspaper articles written about them, etc… Donate through the organization’s website to ensure you aren’t giving money to someone sending out a sham email.
For more general advice from this blog see The DO’s and DONT’s of Disaster Donations
3. Other Blogs Giving Donor Advice on the Haiti Earthquake - (many contain recommendations for specific aid organizations)
Disaster Relief — Frequently Asked Questions – Foundation Center
What donors can learn from past disasters – Philantopic – 5 key lessons
Nobody wants your old shoes: How not to help in Haiti – Aid Watch – Alanna Shaikh guest post about what not to do following a disaster
Haiti: How Can I Help – Center for High Impact Philanthropy
What Goes Wrong With Rebuilding Efforts (and How to Do it Better This Time) – Social Entrepenuershi@change.org – Discusses five problems common to aid.
Tales from the Hood, written by an experienced disaster relief worker, has three posts worth reading. His post Haiti give advice on where to donate and Post-Aftermath and Post-Aftermath II share what it’s like in the aftermath of a disaster
How companies can help in Haiti – Harvard Business Review
Giving to Help from Texas in Africa provides 3 criteria for choosing organizations and 5 organizations
Global Post wrote Haiti: Help with money, not stuff which discusses the problems caused by donated medicine after disasters
Philanthropy Action posted Advice for Donors to Haiti – providing advice based on research from the World Bank and the Fritz Institute.
GiveWell posted their advice on Haiti earthquake donations
An article from the author of The Road to Hell - From an expert: Haiti Donation Advice
AidWatch has posted Haiti Earthquake: Help Navigating Complex Terrain of Disaster Relief
4. Related posts from other blogs
*** An updated list of posts written by aid workers related to issues surrounding the Haiti recovery efforts can now be found here, therefore the list below will no longer be updated ***
Disaster Relief Myths Busted - Reject apathy
Carpe Diem – Chris Blattman – Argues that if you want to help there are many ways to make a difference – somewhere else
Ushahidi in Haiti: What’s needed now? from wait…what? about the need for clear and coordinated information after a disaster – links to Ushahidi making maps available online
What not to give in emergencies – GlobalHealth@Change.org
Don’t send baby formula to Darfur – GlobalHealth@Change.org
What to do: The donor edition – Emergency Response – Tales from the Hood
The case against disaster relief – GiveWell – makes some good points
The challenge of reverse logistics in global health – A Humourless Lot - looks at the problems that arise when too much is sent or things have to be sent back
On not caring about Haiti – humanitarian.info looks at the greater tragedy of only helping after disaster strikes instead of when it was needed before
Coordinating Relief Aid: Is It Time? - Philantopic – a great time to discuss increased coordination through a consolidated donation fund
5. Related posts from this blog:
Before choosing an organization to donate to I strongly suggest reading some of the posts linked to in section 3 of this blog. They are written by aid workers and charity watchdog groups and many provide names of charities they recommend giving to.
I received a very good question asking “Are there any organizations who’s chief mission is to investigate and distribute moneys to other organizations. If there are would prefer to just earmark money for the Haiti relief.” There is the UN Central Emergency Response Fund “CERF assures that the funds will go where they are most needed in the network of international aid organizations.” I think a centralized location to collect funds and then distribute them is a great idea because it would allow greater coordination and decrease competition. Some of the critics of CERF say that they don’t always disperse funds quick enough or in a sensible manner. It also may be more difficult for small organizations to apply for. I’m open to debate the idea. Here’s a related article from Philantopic Coordinating Relief Aid: Is it time? - Discusses revisiting the idea of a single donation point to decrease the negative effects of competition between nonprofits and increase coordination.