03/28/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Giving to Haiti and to the Future

When humanitarian crises strike, the people of the world seize the moment to come together and respond. We have witnessed this powerful response time and again, and we continue to be humbled and awed by the collective power and goodwill of humanity in response to tragedy. The world has responded with speed and generosity, but more is needed now and well into the future.

As impressive as the outpouring of donations have been, they represent only a fraction of what can be done and what needs to be done. The need for help continues today and will persist for weeks, months and unfortunately, even years to come. The practical reality is that recovery, whether in Haiti, Southeast Asia or Louisiana, is a long and often agonizing process that requires continued vigilance and attention. But there are steps you can take now to ensure that your donations are put to the best use.

Having just returned from Haiti with President Clinton, who is serving as the United Nations Special Envoy to Haiti, I can attest to both the truly overwhelming scope and scale of the devastation but also the remarkable humanitarian effort underway. Even during my time as FEMA Director, or while witnessing the after effects of the tsunami disaster, I have never experienced anything so devastating. Whether you have been motivated to help because of family, friends, faith, a sense of moral responsibility, or simply because you've been moved by the images and emotion, is in many ways less important than how you help. In the early stages of such a crisis, speed, agility, supplies and process management are paramount, and all of this costs money. Although well-intentioned, donations of blood, boxes of clothes or boarding a boat to the country are not the right choice right now. While dollars may seem less personal, they will save countless lives. We urge anyone moved to donate to keep the following principles in mind:

Give money, not cash. Using a credit, debit card or other form of electronic payment is far superior to sending a check. Electronic payments are immediate, easier to distribute, and secure. The bottom line is that speed is crucial in a crisis, and a donation with one of the major cards is the fastest way to help. For most charities and relief organizations, the small cost of doing business with cards is far outweighed by the benefit of speed, and evidence indicates electronic payments significantly increase overall giving. UNICEF recently stated that such online donations are actually converted into aid within a matter of hours. President Obama asked former Presidents Clinton and Bush to spearhead fundraising efforts, and in just a few days they have raised online donations from more than 126,000 people.

Give to the right organization. Your donation is best spent with organizations that have a proven ability to get your dollars where they are needed most urgently and most effectively. Even more than governments themselves, NGOs such as the Doctors Without Borders, Save The Children, Red Cross, OXFAM America, AmeriCares and Mercy Corps have the arms and legs to mobilize and establish relief channels rapidly and efficiently.

Give now, give again. The money that we give today to relief organizations will be put to work immediately to fund on-the-ground efforts in Haiti. But the need will continue in Haiti for long-term rebuilding of our long-suffering neighbor. So as we respond spontaneously to the enormous human suffering going on right now, we ask you to respond just as generously to ongoing pleas for help as Haiti struggles to recover.

Give for the future. Unfortunately, there will be more earthquakes, more hurricanes, more floods, and more people who desperately need help in the future - whether overseas or in our own back yard. Past disasters have taught us that our contributions - when guided correctly - play a critical part in reconstruction and restoration. Your donations now to organizations that are planning for the future will ease pain and suffering, and will save lives down the line. This needs to be about preparation.