Yesterday I logged onto a site from which I purchase regularly and was immediately presented with a pop-up that solicited donations for the victims of Hurricane Harvey. I’ve seen similar offers on other sites and on Facebook. This particular company is extremely reputable and I’ve no doubt that they will funnel all contributions to the intended recipients. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of all such sites. This raises the question of how you can be sure that your donations will actually reach the people who truly need help.
Contrary to popular disaster myths, people are at their best in disasters. We have research that shows that people want to help others in disasters, even if they themselves are affected. You need look no further than the tremendous outpouring of money and goods that follow every major disaster. However, good intentions can sometimes cause more harm than good. Here’s how you can make sure that you are helping and not contributing to the problem:
Send money, not goods. Responder organizations don’t have the resources to sort, size and distribute goods such as shoes and clothing. The bulk of these types of donations end up in a landfill, many of which are already taxed by disaster debris. You’re better off donating to one of the many voluntary agencies working with the government in the response. The exception is if you are a company or organization that can ship in bulk. In this case, you can contact groups such as National VOAD or a FEMA Voluntary Agency Liaisons and Donations Specialist at a FEMA regional office to see if your goods and services are needed.
Don’t deliver goods directly to the disaster area. Loading a truck with supplies and heading to the scene of a disaster is tempting but it can put you at risk and make you one more problem for local responders. Access to disaster areas is often restricted to residents only for safety reasons and the temptation is to leave goods by the side of the road. Instead, consider volunteering with one of the many humanitarian agencies providing relief.
Make sure who is getting your money. Fraud is common after a disaster and you should be careful about to whom you give money. If you choose to not to give to national organizations such as the Red Cross, the Salvation Army or National VOAD, do your homework before giving money and watch for red flags such as only requiring cash or wire transfers or high-pressure tactics.
Any emergency manager can tell you horror stories about dealing with donated goods. I’ve seen fur coats sent to Hawaii, landfills closed as a result of the glut of donated goods, and disaster resources diverted to deal with donations that weren’t needed. Don’t be part of the problem!