In philanthropy, strategic giving of time, talent, and treasure can increase impact. However, in disaster philanthropy, effective and efficient giving can make the difference between life and death. Remember the next time you watch coverage of the effects of Typhoon Haiyan that empathy is about giving people what they need when they need it, rather than doing something to mitigate your own pain at watching others' suffering. So when you're asking people, "Why does everyone just want my cash?" refer to the Center for International Disaster Information (CIDI), which I think does a good job answering that question with these points regarding relief giving:
• Remember that disaster situations evolve quickly, and specific in-kind needs can be unpredictable. Cash donations provide relief organizations with agility, and they are able to purchase what is needed as new requirements arise.
• Giving cash enables relief organizations to purchase supplies locally, stimulating the recently impacted economy and providing both cash flow and employment to those impacted by the disaster.
• There are no transportation costs, customs fees, delays, or logistical issues when cash is given, and relief workers are able to dedicate their time to coordinating vital emergency care instead of being distracted by sorting and storing piles of in-kind gifts.
• When goods are purchased locally, they are more likely to be familiar commodities to survivors, and they are fresh and arrive quickly without extraneous transportation and storage costs. The goods purchased are also guaranteed to be more culturally, nutritionally, and environmentally appropriate for specific communities.
If you feel that you must give in-kind and do not want to end up in the Disaster Giving Hall of Shame, go to CIDI's website to be schooled on how to send in-kind gifts, because unless you run a logistics company, we all have a lot of learning to do.
The old adage, "One person's trash is another person's treasure" certainly does not apply here. But even wonderful items like plush brand new toys and last year's Prada shoes are not appropriate. We need to think rationally. I promise you, from what we have learned from past disasters, those goods will end up locked in an expensive storage container in Honolulu, and will never reach the intended recipients. By the way, owner of those old Prada shoes, my address is...
If you really want to make my Disaster Giving Hall of Fame, donate now to help later. This is for people that understand the long-view, and that the rebuilding process will take many years. Do not just donate once; donate many times. Follow disaster experts like the Center for Disaster Philanthropy (CDP), as they dedicate their knowledge and raised funds to returning the Philippines to normalcy and better. Hold onto your money for mental health issues, for planning and resettling communities, and for new preparedness and mitigation techniques. CDP has set up a Typhoon Haiyan Recovery Fund specifically looking at medium- and long-term recovery and rebuilding in the Philippines.
And if you think that you don't have something to give materially, you're wrong. Here's what you can do: hug your children or someone else's (provided that they know you), send spirit and healing through your love and good intentions, volunteer for a social cause in your own backyard, help your local Filipino community, and remember that when the media stops covering this, the devastation does not go away.
Follow Lori J. Bertman on Twitter: www.twitter.com/LoriBertman