Giving for Disaster Relief
Because I work for a disaster relief agency that also provides a variety of other important daily services, I am always interested in studying why certain donors only give for disaster relief. On a small sample, I noticed that more than 4,000 of our donors gave for the Hurricane Katrina relief efforts in 2005, but did not give in subsequent years.
In fact, I contacted several donors who gave over $25,000 for the Katrina relief. None of these donors had an interest in giving on an ongoing basis for other purposes. They basically said, “We will give again when another disaster occurs.” With Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Irma, Hurricane Jose and Hurricane Katia arriving at the same time, I wonder if these donors will renew support for these massive relief efforts.
According to this CNN article, experts say donors give for disaster reliefs because they feel they are part of something larger, are being energized and are emotionally rewarded. Studies have shown that when people get together and cooperate to do good deeds, it leads to positive feelings says Liz Dunn, assistant professor of social psychology at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada.
People tend to react to disasters with small gifts and don’t dramatically change their budgets. Working with other people who care about a cause also creates personal ties and motivates donors. Dunn’s research shows that people get the most emotional benefit from giving money to recipients they know personally or when they know someone who has a direct connection to a cause or charity.
The author of this article from Psychology Today cites a paper by loannis Evangelidis and Bram Van den Bergh that explored the influences on people’s donations following disasters. They analyzed the actual donations given following natural disasters that occurred from 2000 to 2011 using publicly accessible databases.
Evangelidis and Van den Bergh found that the number of fatalities following the disaster was associated with a higher likelihood of monetary donations. According to the researchers, potential donors need to be induced about the importance of the survivors, which greatly outnumber those killed and to recognize why they need aid, in the hope that thinking about disaster giving might shift.
Is there a problem with giving for disaster relief? Yes, according to this WhyDev blog. The author notes that often donations take too long to be processed to be of any use on the ground. Furthermore, the author of this GiveWell blog points out the immediate lifesaving response time is much shorter than humanitarian organizations recognize.
In many cases, the concerns of the affected disaster population and authorities shift from search-and-rescue to rehabilitation of infrastructure. Thus, very quickly, the needs for which a donation is made may change. Disaster relief agencies can receive too much money to use and in-kind donations can be unnecessary or even logistically harmful to recovery efforts. The author of the WhyDev blog suggests facilitating structured giving for disasters and when necessary, decline donations.
If potential donors want to support disaster giving, follow several ideas put in this GiveWell blog titled “From the Archive: 6 tips on Disaster Relief Giving.” These are:
- Give cash, not clothes or other goods
- Support an organization that will help or get out of the way
- Give proactively, not reactively
- Allow your funds to be used where most needed—even if that means they’re not used during this disaster
- Give to organizations that are transparent and accountable
- Think about less publicized suffering
To take it a step further, Give.org suggests the following when considering disaster relief donations:
- Be cautious when giving online.
- Rely on expert opinion when it comes to evaluating a charity.
- Understand crowdfunding.
- Be wary of claims that 100 percent of donations will assist relief victims.
- Find out if the charity has an on-the-ground presence in the impacted areas.
- Find out if the charity is providing direct aid or raising money for other groups.
- Reconsider gifts of clothing, food or other in-kind donations, if agencies cannot handle these types of donations.
This Fidelity Charitable article titled “When to Give: The Four Phases of Disaster Relief” notes that for a strategic donor, successful disaster relief support is rooted in thoughtful, educated decision-making during four phases of disaster relief, which are:
- Immediate: Day of disaster and up to six months following disaster
- Intermediate: Days after disaster and up to one to two years after disaster
- Long-term: Weeks/months after disaster and up to five to 15 years after disaster
- Disaster preparedness: Ongoing continuous.
The article reinforces the fact that many disasters are recurring. By thinking strategically about the timing, recipients and designations of contributions, donors can make a lasting impact on the lives of those affected.
A few trustworthy organizations to consider for disaster contributions include Samaritan’s Purse, Catholic Charities, Operation Blessing, The Salvation Army, United Methodist Committee on Relief, Episcopal Relief and Development, American Red Cross, and World Vision, according to ThoughtCo. Per ThoughCo., if you cannot give financially for disaster relief, pray, give relief supplies, give blood or volunteer.
In summary, giving for disaster relief is very much needed and complicated. Consider continuous giving even when there are no disasters, as the funds will be put to good use. Unfortunately, disasters are a part of life, and sadly, many individuals that can least afford to be hurt by disasters are hurt by disasters. Consider disaster giving the “extra” gift you begin to make each year. You will be glad you did.
Duke has extensive experience as a nonprofit practitioner and consultant. He has been a contributing author to NonProfit PRO for the last nine years and has had the CFRE designation for the last 25 years. He has also been a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals for over 35 years. He received his doctorate from West Virginia University with an emphasis in philanthropy, masters from Marshall University with an emphasis on resource development and a bachelor's degree from West Virginia University with emphasis in marketing/management. Currently he is executive director of development for The Salvation Army Indiana Division. Contact Duke at firstname.lastname@example.org.