Disaster Relief: What to Donate, Where to Donate, and How Else You Can Financially Help

by Jessica Sommerfield · 1 comment

disaster relief
From Hurricane Harvey, to Hurricane Irma, to Hurricane Jose and Maria, not to mention rampant wildfires, we’ve seen plenty of natural disasters in the U.S. this summer. Although the greatest loss is the loss of life, there are also thousands of families who have lost their way of life: homes, places of employment, and literally every possession. Even if we refuse to call ourselves rich, those of us with a roof over our heads and food in our pantries are in the position to help, yet sometimes we hesitate.

David’s Note: They are now saying that 100% of Puerto Rico is going to be without power for months. Months! For the entire country! I can’t imagine living without electricity for a few months, though I imagine that’s not even the worst of the their concern since they are probably low on basic necessities like food and water.

It’s not that we don’t want to give. Rather, in a world full of charity scams and inefficient organizations, we question where to give so our gifts are being used as they’re intended and getting to those who most need them. If you’re eager to help but want more assurance your charitable donations are making an impact, here are a few (hopefully helpful) guidelines.

1. Don’t Donate Stuff – Donate Cash

People tend to start donating used clothes, canned goods, and bottled water every time there’s a natural disaster. The intention is good, but it also forces government officials and charity groups to deal with the logistics of sorting, transporting and distributing random donations. The inefficiency of this process can end up costing more in time and expense. So, unless an organization asks for donation of items that fill specific needs and gives clear guidelines for how to donate them, it’s best to donate money so these groups can better coordinate and streamline their relief efforts.

2. Don’t Know Who to Trust? Do Your Research

Over the last decade, crowdfunding sites with individual fundraising campaigns have become a popular way for individuals and smaller organizations to gain attention and raise funds. Even though crowdfunding platforms try to weed out those who are abusing the system, they can’t catch them all.

If you want to donate money, but you’re afraid your funds might be lining someone’s pocket rather than purchasing disaster relief supplies, do your research on charity organizations at CharityNavigator.org or with the Federal Trade Commission. It’s always a better bet to stick with long-standing, reputable organizations such as the following:

  • The Red Cross
  • The Salvation Army
  • Convoy of Hope
  • Government branches

Still, keep in mind that smaller charities can be just as good (if not better) at getting donations where they need to go, so don’t discount them just because they’re small or you’ve never heard of them before. Ask around, look for personal reviews, and use your best judgment.

disaster relief3. Prioritize Donations for What’s Most Needed in a Natural Disaster: Food and Shelter

There are countless charities with diverse focuses, but the most relevant after a natural disaster are those who help people with the most basic, immediate needs until they can get on their feet again. If you need to be discretionary about where you give, choose local and regional food banks, organizations that help the homeless and disabled, pet shelters, and rebuilding initiatives like Habitat for Humanity.

Many food banks, shelters, and related organizations can accept online donations for more efficient giving, but consider donating your time if you can. These entities are almost always in need of a few extra helping hands.

4. Consider Listing Your Home on AirBnB as a Place for Displaced Families to Stay

Maybe you can’t donate money, or even time, but do you have an extra room? AirBnB is normally a way for home or rental owners to earn a little extra money renting empty rooms or homes to vacationers, but the crowd-sharing platform also has a special disaster response program that allows hosts to voluntarily offer their rooms for free to displaced families.

Giving up a room of your home might only cost you a little comfort or convenience for a short time, but it can make a world of difference to someone who’s suddenly lost their home. Don’t be afraid to get uncomfortable and get creative in how you donate to relief efforts.

It’s normal to want to help in times of nationwide natural disaster, but it’s important to be smart about how and where you’re giving so your donations can make the greatest impact. Have you donated to help with the recent natural disasters are devastating families around the country? Are there other guidelines you’d add to this list?

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  • DT says:

    I have read many commentaries discouraging people from donating used clothing. While I understand the basis for the criticism I don’t agree in principle. Self centered donations, like sending discarded winter clothing to tropical climates, or used underwear, is thoughtless and worthy of criticism and discouragement. But come on! Send only cash so people can buy new clothing to slog through mud and flooded homes, apartments, ruins, etc. I can see where that benefits retailers. Disaster relief is about logistics. If people are buying new things isn’t it the same problem of getting the goods to them? Trucks still have to ship goods, new or used. Giving displaced people a share in a meaningful task, ie., sort distribute, clothing donations, can have beneficial consequences to members who need short term goals that are achievable before venturing into overwhelming problems. People directing disaster relief need better training in how to solicit, organize, and distribute all available resources. Your comment doesn’t reflect opinions of expert, experienced disaster relief leaders who caution against the cash only donations susceptibility to inappropriate allocations, siphoning, and corruption.
    Yes, bad decisions and conclusions come from exhausted people leading disaster relief; and it happens with money, too.

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