It’s impossible to watch a disaster unfold in the news and not want to help. Whether in your own neighborhood or on the other side of the globe, relief efforts are fueled by donations from ordinary citizens. But in times of disaster, it’s difficult to know exactly what’s needed. From money to actual supplies, here are some tips on what to donate to charity during relief efforts.
When a Helping Hand Causes More Trouble
When you read stories about people losing their homes and all of their personal belongings, it’s not hard to find items you have to spare. It might seem like the best option is to send whatever you can, but disaster relief efforts can often get bogged down by well-meaning people sending donations that aren’t actually useful.
GiveWell, a non-profit dedicated to helping donors decide on the best organizations to give to, explains that shipping unwanted items to those facing a disaster can get in the way of real relief efforts. Boxes of winter coats sent to a location in a tropical climate, for example, won’t be of use. They will also end up causing a burden when charitable organizations have to figure out what to do with them, likely costing them time and money.
What to Donate to Charity
Ultimately, the best way to give is by donating funds; that way relief agencies can use it to quickly purchase the supplies they really need. If sending money is not within your budget, you might consider holding a yard sale with those items you planned to donate and then give the money you raise.
If you’re concerned money donated won’t actually be put to good use, it’s important to do some homework on the charities you’re considering. Charity Navigator rates charitable organizations based on several financial factors like tax status, revenue, and expenses.
GiveWell goes beyond financials to rank charities on their ability to get the job done. In other words, they handpick organizations based on how well they’re able to accomplish their goals with the funds they have.
The Dos and Don’ts of Donating
When you still want to give but money just isn’t the best choice for you, there are certain items you can donate that will be helpful. The trick is simply figuring out what those needs are. Bypass the larger, global effort programs to look for local agencies that are on the ground and know exactly what the needs are of the affected communities.
Groups like food banks and animal shelters are a good place to start. While some of these organizations might initially be affected by the disaster themselves, once they’re back up and running, contact them to find out what items they need.
Registry lists are another way some charities are making it easier to donate items. Many groups will build gift registries for diapers, clothing, flashlights, batteries, and more. If there’s a group you’re thinking of donating to, ask them if they have a gift list you can shop from.
The timing of your donation can also make a difference in what’s needed. Trying to move shipments of items through flooded cities isn’t ideal in the initial aftermath of a hurricane. Three or four months later, however, when things may have settled and families are still looking to replace what they’ve lost, those boxes of baby clothes and blankets might come in handy.
In the event of a disaster, help is always welcome. Just make sure you put those good intentions to proper use by taking some time to think about what you’re donating and how it might be used. Do you have a disaster-relief charity you like to go through? Share your giving spirit with us on Twitter.
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