When everyone’s shouting ‘emergency’ and ‘donate here’, how do you choose?
- Mission: Does their stated mission fit with your views?
- Current Needs: Be pragmatic. Right now, the basics of the basics are needed: water, food, medical care, shelter and search and rescue teams. Now is not the time for teddy bears and sweet photo ops.
- Experience: Has the organization been around long? If it has just set up for this one emergency, it’s probably not as likely to know how to run operations in a disaster of this magnitude. Look to those who specialize in disaster response. They most likely have decent logistics chains in place and specialized people on call.
- Locations and Reach-back: Are they in-country already? Where do they currently have projects? Will they beef up operations or have to start from scratch there? I like to donate to non-profits that already have a presence in the country. Why? Because they typically already have a base of operations, staff who are knowledgeable about the area and culture, and an established network of people and businesses that may enable them to better handle supply and logistical needs.
- Definitive recipients: Manpower is often a scarce commodity in major disasters. Do not assume that supplies can just be sent and accepted without a very clear, designated recipient. “To the people of Japan” doesn’t count. Volunteers are overworked and exhausted and won’t often have the time or ability to go through stuff that arrives haphazardly.
Money is often requested at this stage of an emergency rather than goods for a multitude of reasons. Some disaster response organizations have stockpiles and pre-made kits of very specific supplies that they know from experience will be needed. They have channels set up to procure more of what they need. Plus, as we’ve all probably experienced, it’s easier to ship things of a uniform size. Also, humanitarian organizations can try to buy supplies locally (if available), which will help the Japanese economy, which is obviously taking a serious hit right now, in addition to all its other troubles.