Chances are you are like me when a disaster strikes. When you see the images and hear the stories, you want to help, and help the best you can. Chances are equally good that you have no intention of jumping in to a disaster like my team and I do. That’s fine. We all play our part. There are goers and there are senders. Both are equally important. As our slogan says “Because you send us, we can go; because we go, they can live.”
I get a lot of calls and emails when a disaster breaks from people who want to know how to help. There are many, many ways to help, but not all are created equal. Here are a few tips to make sure you are doing the greatest good with your time and money.
#1 Send money, not stuff. I love the heart of community and church volunteers who coordinate clothing drives, canned food drives and the like. I have also seen first-hand piles of culturally-inappropriate clothing scattered along the side of roads in distant countries being destroyed by vehicles driving over them, or huge shipping containers full of rotting food because the right forms weren’t filled out or the locals are demanding a “special tax” to bring items into the area. Very sad, but very true.
#2 Send it as close to the crisis as you can. Sending money to a reputable firm in the affected region means that they know how to get supplies into the region, who truly needs the help and they can buy supplies at local cost, rather than the US cost plus shipping.
#3, And this is truly the number one principle I can share: do some homework, preferably ahead of time. There will be many more disasters following the last one. There are a lot of groups that will ask for money. From “text-to-give” numbers to websites to 800-numbers, you will be bombarded with heart-tugging pleas for your money now.
Before you dial or punch in your credit card info, be sure you know who you are contacting. Most of these firms are reputable, but some are shams that play of the emotional crisis response we all have. Even if they are reputable, how do they use your money? How efficiently is your money getting to the actual victims? Is it going to administration or publicity expenses? Is it getting lost in shipping charges?
The best way to know this is to have someone on the ground you personally know who can verify this information. This can be extremely difficult, but it is one advantage of RescueNet (not to advertise ourselves too heavily.) There is a very short line of accountability from donating to our office to getting on-the-spot reports of what we are doing and where, exactly, that money is going. Your money is not going into a large pile in some bank somewhere; it is coming into and going right back out.
In fact, our people go on their own money, so there is a high level of accountability and caution as we spend. Your money joins ours, or helps replenish our stock as we go and pay it ahead. When we return we will be sure to send everyone who has sponsored our work first person reports, photos and stories. You are only one-step removed from being on the field. When requested, we will even send someone from the team to visit your sponsoring church or group whenever possible. We really are your hands and feet in a disaster and want you to feel as close to the field as possible
If you don’t have a first-person view, you can do some homework. www.ecfa.org is great for researching any faith-based groups. http://www1.networkforgood.org/for-donors is a connecting point for donors and recipients. They do their homework on their partner agencies. You can also check through leading financial publications like Kiplingers, CNNMoney and The Wall Street Journal.
That’s a longer-than-usual post, but it is an important topic. I hope we RescueNet can be your representative during the next crisis, but if not, please make sure your money and time are used wisely. There are many people out there who need it. Let’s do our best with it.