It has been ten days since Hurricane Maria has devastated the Island of Puerto Rico. We have read the harrowing news reports about a lack of food, electricity, and water and people dying. We are horrified by the scale of destruction and suffering of our fellow Americans as they wait for aid to reach them. Where should be donate?
Even if you don’t have a lot of money to donate, every little bit helps. Even if you already gave once, there is a lot of need out there, so think about giving again. And, as blogger Vu Le says, donating to organizations on the ground can be a form of self-care.
I usually take a three-prong strategy for disaster relief. I have my go-to global organizations that do a great job at relief efforts on the ground, set up funds for long-term rebuilding, or do a terrific job of vetting local charities to support. Then, I look for local charities on the ground, many times there is a local community foundation that is stepping up. And increasingly,I look at and try to find a reputable crowdfunding campaign from a site like GoFundMe or YouCaring, usually thought a friend or connection. I’m not alone, according to Pew Research, 22% of Americans have donated to a crowdfunding campaign.
Crowdfunding – the practice of raising small donations from a large number of donors online – raises over a billion-dollars a year, with donations going to support start ups, gadgets, nonprofits, and directly to individuals. As we watch reports of a disaster, we can give directly to people on the ground. It isn’t without its challenges, of course.
The most successful campaigns have a compelling story, but many people in need don’t necessarily have a story that fits the formula or the digital skills to set up a campaign. There is also the randomness of what catches on and gets traction. It also raises a thorny tax question. Unlike donations to nonprofits, these are not deductible for the donor. There is the possibility of fraud, although platforms like GoFundMe and YouCaring have verified campaigns and monitor for fraud. When I give to a crowdfunding campaign directly to an individual, I usually do it if I know someone who is connected to the fundraiser.
How do you decide which organizations to support? This article in the New York Times provides some good advice. The nuggets are:
- Identify your values before donating – Jacob Harold says, “Pick the issue with your heart, but pick the organization with your head.”
- Decide how much research time – You can spend hours and hours researching charities or pick an organization that has done the vetting. For example, Global Giving. If you want to do the research yourself, use charity evaluation sites like GuideStar, Charity Navigator, the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance and Charity Watch.
- Donate cash, not goods – Sending in-kind items can actually get in the way of relief efforts.
- Follow up later, recovery takes a long time – Donations typically come in right after a disaster strikes, but it is often a long road to recovery. Given the devastation on the ground in Puerto Rico, it is going to take a long time to get back to “normal,” if at all. Consider becoming a repeat donor or contribute to long-term recovery funds.
Here’s my giving strategy for Puerto Rico.
- Team Rubicon: Team Rubicon provides disaster relief and uses the skills of veterans. They have a team of volunteers in Puerto Rico.
- Global Giving: They fundraise on behalf of local charities on the ground and do all the research and vetting. They have a fund set up for Puerto Rico.
- Save the Children: I am a regular donor to Save the Children because I want to support disaster relief targeted for children and Save the Children does a great job every place in the world, including Puerto Rico.
- Hispanic Federation
A coalition of elected officials in New York and Puerto Rico joined the Hispanic Federation, a Latino nonprofit, to launch this relief fund for Puerto Ricans affected by Maria. Proceeds will go to community and civic organizations in Puerto Rico. Lin-Manuel Miranda, the guy that wrote Hamilton and is from Puerto Rico, writes this testimony about you should donate to this fund. (This link goes to MoveOn because they are covering the transaction fees)
- GoFundMe has created a special landing page with all the crowdfunding campaigns in support of Puerto Rico
These are my personal picks, but the New York Times has published this larger list of charities. What’s your donation strategy when it comes to donating to disaster relief efforts?