01/17/2010 02:45 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

When It Rains Disasters, an Umbrella Fund May Not Be the Best Thing

Size may matter in some places, but qualitatively, many smaller relief and development groups often provide the fastest and most effective service to those in need.

The announced Bill Clinton-George W. Bush joint fund raising effort for Haiti -- all of which, as with the George H.W. Bush-Bill Clinton Hurricane Katrina Fund, goes to the Clinton Foundation -- and other new or established "umbrella" funds may serve to divert critically-needed resources away from operational NGOs to cautious-to-a-fault or slow-to-react foundations, no matter how lauded they are for work on development projects in Africa and even in Haiti itself. I thought that the Special Representative of the Secretary General of the United Nations for Haiti -- Bill Clinton -- was way off base last Thursday when he pitched giving only to his foundation rather than to UN agencies or the larger universe of experienced relief groups; and, that President Obama was similarly ill-served by his staff having him pitch only the American Red Cross, which is also supposed to be an umbrellla resource-raising group for the Red Cross Society of Haiti (and any other foreign Red Cross Society whose country was affected by a major disaster).

That everyone, or nearly everyone but Rush Limbaugh, wants to do something useful for Haiti is great. That the FBI has had to issue a fraud warning for slick marketers or outright fraudulent websites is tragic as it could serve to dampen people's compassion and action.

Not since Katrina has the public been so motivated to help. The 24/7 media coverage has outrun the relief response, however, due to the absence of any semblance of a government or indeed of public order in Haiti.

As the rescue phase winds down and the bodies and the injured are cared for, the second phase is about to begin. In this case, it will be an influx of doctors and nurses from all over the world who will catch-up with the over-stressed health care system (sic). Shelter, drinking water, food and power will have to be very rapidly restored to at least subsistence levels and this will be done by the US military, the United Nations, Cuban health brigades (there are now at least 70 doctors and nurses with 2 field hospitals, and they are very competent at this), the local and international NGOs with a vast knowledge of either Haiti, disaster response or both, and what's left of Haiti's feeble private sector.

This morning, Los Angeles-based Operation USA,, sent 13,000 lbs of medical supplies from Los Angeles to Haiti via Chicago, courtesy of United Airlines; and, high priority antibiotics to the headquarters of the Honeywell Corporation in New Jersey which will fly them to Haiti on Monday in its corporate aircraft. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries/America donated powerful lighting equipment in Texas; and, a Florida family purchased 7 large electric generators in Miami for Operation USA to distribute to local partners in Haiti.

This is a very small NGO. There are many excellent NGOs, but the public needs to do vastly more research on who is and who is not effective in the context of what's called a Complex Emergency. is one place to start for financial effectiveness; is another site which provides access to official nonprofit tax filings; and internet search engines (not advertisements!!) can provide access to the good, the bad and the ugly about some of the sleazier groups, especially evangelical TV preachers masquerading as relief savants.