What’s the Best Way to Help Haiti?

Haiti's Cathedral in Ruins

Haiti's Cathedral in Ruins

I’m sure that, like me, your heart has been breaking for the people of Haiti, and you have been looking for ways to help. The motivation to give is powerful. I’m amazed at the new technologies for giving, such as these text message appeals — as of Friday, the American Red Cross reports that more than $8 million has been donated by people who text “HAITI” to #90999.

Photo of Haiti’s cathedral after the earthquake by Mr Stucke via Flickr

Unbelievable as it may seem, though, there are ways to “help” that really don’t help anyone. Before joining InterVarsity staff, I worked for a local affiliate of the BBB Wise Giving Alliance, a nonprofit ethics and accountability watchdog. Disasters always bring out con artists hoping to use emotion for a quick buck (if you don’t believe that there are people out there as heartless as that, let me tell you some stories sometime), but there are also well-intentioned charity efforts that are simply ineffective, inefficient, or unaccountable. For example, no one doubts that respected Haitian-American musician Wyclef Jean cares about Haiti (one of his best friends was killed in the earthquake), but the Smoking Gun has raised important questions about whether donations to his foundation actually help anyone other than concert promoters (charges which Jean denies, by the way). The BBB offers several resources for donating wisely to Haiti relief.

Andy Crouch has linked to a couple of other articles. Mark Peterson notes the importance of making sure your giving counts:

My preference in giving is not to give quickly nor in times of disaster. There are plenty of people doing that and you don’t have to join the bandwagon. So stop feeling guilty and don’t give to get that monkey off your back. Instead, carefully investigate options and choose to make a longer-term, more strategic decision to truly partner with an organization.

Andy also linked to Bill Easterly of Aidwatchers.com, which has posted the provocative article “Nobody wants your old shoes“:

Donating stuff instead of money is a serious problem in emergency relief. Only the people on the ground know what’s actually necessary; those of us in the rest of the world can only guess. Some things, like summer clothes and expired medicines are going to be worthless in Haiti.

So, what’s a well-meaning person to do? Putting my old BBB hat back on, and drawing on some of the articles above, here’s three good pieces of advice:

  • Give to established, reputable charities. Somewhere down the line, new nonprofits will be needed to help Haiti’s unexpected needs. Right now, however, aid needs to be delivered quickly by large organizations that have established infrastructures already in place. The BBB has a list of known national charities raising money for Haiti – these are not endorsements, but a list to help you compare charities. Look for those that have been accredited by the BBB.
  • Give cash. Food, water, and clothing will be very helpful in the months to come. But right now, charities need money so that they can deliver the most effective aid in the fastest way possible.
  • Plan your giving for the future. As Mark Peterson notes above, lots of people give lots of small gifts in the heat of the moment. Giving in times of crisis usually exceeds expectations. But the needs of Haiti will not stop after next week. For that matter, neither will the needs of impoverished countries around the world. Nor will the needs of your church, local chamber choir, animal shelter, crisis pregnancy center, or even your favorite campus ministry. January is a great time to review your household budget and decide on your giving for the coming year.

Enough from me. What other good advice have you seen? What insights have you read or heard?

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Micheal Hickerson

The former Associate Director for the Emerging Scholars Network, Micheal lives in Cincinnati with his wife and three children and works as a web manager for a national storage and organization company. He writes about work, vocation, and finding meaning in what you do at No Small Actors.

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3 Comments

  • markp@bridgewayfoundation.ca'
    Mark Petersen commented on January 19, 2010 Reply

    Michael,

    Thanks for the mention. I am a big fan of planning one’s thoughtful giving agenda in January as you suggest.

    As I write, I am in Colombia, South America where it is only reinforced to me the need to be strategic and intentional in one’s giving. And don’t let giving be a one-time affair to make you feel better in the moment, but a lifetime of engagement with a group of people, even a nation, where you can see evidence of incremental change over a generation.

    My best wishes…
    Mark

  • markp@bridgewayfoundation.ca'
    Mark Petersen commented on January 19, 2010 Reply

    Sorry, just noticed I misspelled your name: Micheal.

  • diane.bennett@nyu.edu'
    Diane Bennett commented on January 19, 2010 Reply

    Thanks for the shoutout to our aidwatchers blog. Please note the post you liked to was authored by guest blogger Alanna Shaikh.

    Diane Bennett

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