A few days ago, a devastating earthquake hit Haiti. Government buildings crumbled to the ground along with a countless number of schools, hospitals and homes. The pictures and reports coming to us can only convey a fraction of the pain that must be over there, making it all the more heartbreaking. Many of my friends are talking about how to donate to Haiti. Here’s some thoughts on how to be more mindful of where and how you give.

Text message donations

Donations made via text message can take up to 90 days to reach the organizations. :-( mGive is the main company helping organizations like the Red Cross provide this service, and on their FAQ:

“How long does it take for a donor’s gift to reach the intended cause or charity?

The distribution of funds is based on the quarterly carrier payout schedule. Every 90 days the carriers disburse the funds generated from your mobile donation campaign to The mGive Foundation which then passes those funds along to your organization along with a detailed remittance report for each donation campaign you have.” http://www.mgive.com/FAQ/Default.aspx

Ooooofff… This method of donating might be easier for us, but that seems to be about the extent of it… Although I’m sure your donation will still be much appreciated in three months, just be aware that you’re money won’t get to the ground as quickly as you’re able to send the text message.

US-based orgs can only send goods overseas

The US has a policy that organizations that send aid to other countries cannot send that aid in the form of a bulk of money – they must buy American goods and send them over. This might be good for our local economy and business, but it also means a big part of your donations are paying for fuel and freight costs. This may not be as much of an issue for Haiti, because orgs in Haiti may choose to get supplies from our gulf states anyway. They may choose to. The also may choose to get supplies from the Dominican Republic. Or Cuba. Or other places much closer, affordable, and economical for them to get supplies from. But this is an especially troublesome policy when our government and orgs want to help with disaster relief in Africa or Asia, like after the tsunami hit in 2004. Shipping bottles of water on a plane from the US to South and East Asia probably isn’t the most economical way to get clean water to those countries. Giving them cash, and letting them decide and control where they get their relief supplies is a much more economical way to help. Something else to keep in mind when donating to US-based orgs like the Red Cross.

Speaking of the Red Cross…

I’m usually wary about donating to really, really, really big non-profits. I feel like because they’re so big, they sometimes can’t operate on very progressive politics. But beyond that, I just never know if they’re so bloated that only a fraction of my money will actually make it to the ground. With the Red Cross’s International Response Fund, you’re donating to a big pool of money that the Red Cross will use to provide support to “countless crises, like the recent earthquake in Haiti” (http://american.redcross.org/site/PageServer?pagename=ntld_main, emphasis mine). You’re money might go directly to Haiti right away, or it could go into a mutual fund where it’ll collect interest for a few years, then eventually help with a disaster that hits another country in 2015. It looks like they’re also collecting money now outside their International Response Fund, with language that sounds like it’ll be used specifically for Haiti. But I’m still wary.

Moreover, the Red Cross got a lot of criticism during Katrina and 9/11 with how they managed their donations: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/9518677 and http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/4851428.stm

In light of all this, it’s important to remember however you decide to give, I’m sure it will be much appreciated!! But if you’re interested in being more critical about where and how you give, keep these things in mind. If you’re interested in donating to an org directly in Haiti, as me and my partner have done, here’s a place that has come up a lot with my Facebook friends:

Haiti Action: http://www.haitiaction.net/About/HERF/HERF.html

Do your own research, and donate to places you feel confident in.