Is Your Relief Gift Really Helping the Work on the Ground?

Is Your Relief Gift Really Helping the Work on the Ground?
You remember the stories: the earthquake and tsunami that sparked a nuclear disaster in Japan, Hurricane Katrina’s homeless and hungry refugees, the massive earthquake in Haiti … and you may have opened up your wallet, as well as your heart, to support relief efforts.

But did you do the right thing?
Beyond considerations about which organization to trust with your donation and concerns about how much of your money actually gets to the people who need help, you may be missing an extremely important point: Earmarking your funds for a specific need is rarely the best choice. Much better is to pick a relief agency you have confidence in and let them decide where and how to best use your contribution.

Here’s why
Disasters draw attention, and attention draws money, but the organizations that provide relief are at work year-round, not just when there is an emergency. A starving child unrecognized by the evening news is just as needy as a starving child getting media attention. Earmarked dollars may not be available when and where they are needed.

Consider these points concerning charitable donations to relief agencies:

  • Organizations must have funds in place to respond as soon as emergencies arise—to wait for funds to come in before launching a relief effort would be to deny help at the onset of a disaster, when the need is most critical. Make a practice of giving even when there is no pressing need in the news. Your money may even mean more then, than it will later.
  • Funds you earmark for a specific project must be used on that project, causing a possible imbalance in the ability of the organization to respond to other important needs. It may even be that your money ends up being spent on something comparatively trivial in the designated location, rather than on something essential somewhere else.
  • The actual needs on the ground aren’t often easy to determine from televised news accounts. Large disasters sometimes need less funding from outside contributors than other, less publicized, needs. Those who earmark funds for any particular relief effort effectively make decisions upfront that are best left to the agency somewhere downstream.

Best practice for donating to relief projects
In order to get around the issue, many organizations ask you to agree that any excess funds may be used responsibly for a different cause than the one you selected. Still, it is best to free them up at the onset. Pick the relief agencies you believe in, and back them on a regular basis. In that way, your money will be available as needed, where needed, and when needed.

After all, isn’t that what giving is all about?