THE BLOG
12/01/2014 05:52 pm ET Updated Jan 31, 2015

Give the Best Gift on Giving Tuesday

Throughout the holidays, we are reminded of the power of the giving spirit - not only to be generous to those in our immediate circle, but to consider the needs of others who may need our compassion and support. Following the buying frenzy of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, Giving Tuesday offers an important opportunity to complement our own holiday shopping with a day designated to helping those who may be less fortunate.

In considering the value of our gifts, I'm drawn to my fondness of a free gift with purchase - a buy-one-get-one special treat. My home is filled with these so-called freebies, from a colorful collection of sample-sized cosmetics to bags of flavored coffee to BOGO pairs of shoes; I love getting extra goodies from a single purchase.

This BOGO effect is also why I donate cash to relief organizations who are working to respond to humanitarian disasters throughout the world. In the hands of experienced, reputable aid groups, monetary donations save thousands of lives and bring ancillary benefits, too. We've made it our mission at the USAID Center for International Disaster Information to encourage such donations on Giving Tuesday and throughout the rest of the year, as they do the most good in maximizing our collective impact in the wake of a humanitarian disaster.

Charitable organizations use cash donations to locally purchase needed supplies in needed quantities, saving thousands of dollars in transportation costs, leaving no carbon footprint and supporting local merchants in the affected areas. Local purchases also ensure that goods are fresh and familiar to survivors, culturally appropriate and, in the case of equipment, locally supportable. The funding that might have been spent on transportation of goods can be used to support more survivors, which is why our BOGO donations become even more important. Even tiny cash donations combine to achieve these multiplying impacts - so, no matter how much you give, you get the rewards of BOGO when you give cash.

In contrast, material donations provide local relief workers with less options and flexibility. For example, Katherina Rosqueta, Executive Director of the Center for High Impact Philanthropy at the University of Pennsylvania, explains that food banks can get what they need for "pennies on the dollar." Estimating that 10 cents a pound for food would likely cost $2 per pound retail value, Rosqueta highlights an important prospect: if faced with the choice of feeding an entire family for $1 or donating a single can of food valued at $1, would you even need to think about it?

The BOGO value of a monetary donation goes beyond quantifiable value. While your $1 may go a long way in terms of the amount of supplies or food provided to survivors, it also purchases objects tailored to the needs of the affected population. So not only does your cash donation drive larger amounts, but it also drives larger meaning and impact, allowing relief workers to provide what is needed most, when it is needed most, where it is needed most. And that's a powerful thing.

Just as I'll always purchase the BOGO gift over its single-purchase counterpart, I'll always give the $5 over the $5-worth of goods because I want my donation to do as much good as possible. If you ask me, helping more people is the best free gift this Giving Tuesday and every day of the year.

Juanita Rilling is Director of the United States Agency for International Development's Center for International Disaster Information (USAID CIDI), which was created in 1988 to inform Americans about the best ways to help people affected by disasters overseas. For more information about USAID CIDI and helping international disaster survivors, please visit www.cidi.org.