Operation USA, a small, highly respected Los Angeles-based international relief agency (www.opusa.org) thought two weeks ago that its relief efforts in the triple disasters striking The Philippines, Samoa and Indonesia had finally tapped into the public's consciousness when it simultaneously was listed at the top of USA Today's list of charities responding to the disasters; was on Perez Hilton's website as his recommended relief group to support; had three posts published on HuffPost (one for each disaster); was covered by ABC's Los Angeles station, which came to the group's Port of Los Angeles warehouse to witness its preparation of relief supplies; and, was one of only two relief groups recommended on a blast e-mail from GOP Chairman Michael Steele advising on how to help American Samoa. Operation USA also emailed its own donor list asking for help.
After a full week, the results were in. Just $7,700 was contributed online. This compares with over $1 million donated online within 24 hours in 2004 after the Asia Tsunami.
Operation USA also collects bulk donations of medical and other relief supplies from long-time corporate donors and those amounted to just over $500,000 in product donations in the past three weeks. For the Asia Tsunami, the figures exceeded $10 million.
Being part of the larger relief community, Operation USA's experience was in large part mirrored by other nonprofit groups as far as private funds are concerned. Unlike Operation USA, however, the vast majority of established international relief agencies are also funded by the US Government and can fall back on whatever aid Congress and the Administration decide to give to cope with certain disasters. If private donations are down, they can rely on taxpayer funds to initiate their relief efforts. (There are no non-military US Government relief workers, so nonprofit groups accepting US Government funding implement US Government aid or other foreign policy objectives, which can be fine in Samoa but often troubling in Iraq or Afghanistan.)
What's going on here is that the empirical evidence of the effects of the US and the global recession has come home to roost. One nonprofit chief executive, Jonathan Estrin of the Constitutional Rights Foundation, opined recently that he believes as many as 30% of US nonprofits will fail or be forced to merge with financially stronger organizations in order to continue their humanitarian, educational, peace-making, cultural, faith-based or other activities. As there are well over 700,000 US nonprofit entities, even if Estrin is off by half, over 100,000 groups providing services to Americans and their neighbors, will cease to do so.
This graphically illustrates our economic crisis and the growing crises of both self-confidence in one's economic future and a growing reluctance to give to those whose mission is to help others. That makes which charity to give to ever more important. It's essential to do your own research since, if you can read through HuffPost, you can certainly pull up any charity's website and also Google what others say about the group. While it's true that any clever charlatan can pay to have a slick website designed for them and collect money from the uninformed, HuffPost readers should look at watchdog groups like Charity Navigator and Guidestar as well as discuss with friends, family and co-workers what their experience has been with particular charities.
Give and it gets there is a useful guideline to follow in choosing whom to entrust your shrinking treasure to.
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