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Helping out when disaster strikes—and before and after emergencies happen

By Suzanne Coffman
December 4, 2020

Flooded housing development

Two things are true when it comes to disaster philanthropy:

  1. The next disaster is just around the corner.
  2. The need for disaster preparation and recovery never ends.

Here are Candid’s suggestions for disaster giving that has both short- and long-term impact.

1. Give to an expert-sponsored fund

Think GlobalGiving, the Center for Disaster Philanthropy, and community foundations in areas affected by disasters. Expert-sponsored funds offer several advantages:

  • Peace of mind—the sponsors carefully vet their nonprofit partners.
  • Comprehensiveness—the sponsors look at the total picture for an affected community, addressing needs that may not be readily apparent to outsiders.
  • Long-term commitment—the sponsors are dedicated to long-term recovery.
  • Accountability—the sponsors oversee how their partners use the money they receive.
  • Tax deductibility—the sponsors are registered with the IRS as charitable organizations. This is especially helpful if you’re giving to overseas efforts. Your gift to a non-U.S. nonprofit probably wouldn’t be deductible, but donations to funds sponsored by U.S. nonprofits are.

Some, but not all, expert-sponsored funds retain a portion of the contributions they receive, which bothers many donors. I used to feel that way. I don’t now, because the fees support the funds’ vetting and oversight activities. They support a level of expertise I don’t have.

2. Give through a nonprofit you already support

Whatever your interest—animal welfare, emergency housing, feeding the hungry, mental health, providing school supplies, supporting first responders—those needs arise during emergencies. If there’s a nonprofit that’s near and dear to your heart, check to see if it is responding to a disaster. Even if it isn’t directly involved in recovery efforts, it may be collecting donations on behalf of an affiliate or partner organization on the scene. During an emergency, you’ll often find this information on the home page of the nonprofit’s website.

3. Give to a nonprofit’s general disaster relief fund

We get it: a hurricane or tornado hits, and you want to help now, for that disaster. We’re not saying don’t give to specific emergencies. Instead, we’re suggesting giving part of your contribution to preparedness or long-term recovery—or both.

Remember 2017 and Hurricane Harvey? Even as nonprofits were responding to Harvey, they were dispatching personnel and supplies to places in Hurricane Irma’s path. Then many of the same organizations assisted after two earthquakes hit Mexico. Then Hurricane Maria tore through the Caribbean. When you give to a nonprofit’s general disaster relief fund, you help ensure it will be ready when the next tragedy occurs.

4. Give money, not stuff

Unless a nonprofit asks for specific items, your monetary donation will accomplish more than an in-kind donation. GlobalGiving and the Center for Disaster Philanthropy both explain why this is true. If your heart is set on donating old clothes, hold a yard sale and donate the proceeds instead.

Tags: Giving; Disaster philanthropy