How to Have the Most Impact in the Aftermath of a Crisis

Amid the bombardment of devastating images and stories in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian, it’s only human to want to help. The question is, how should you go about it? Here are a few tips to help guide you toward the most impactful outlets.

Give money, not goods
When there’s so much need, what sort of donation will help the most people: food, clothing, blankets? Actually, it’s money. Food, clothing, blankets, and the like absorb valuable time and resources because they need to be sorted and shipped. And even once they arrive onsite, they’re more likely to get in the way than they are to be put to use because needs evolve rapidly in the wake of a disaster, regardless of whether it’s manmade or natural.

A monetary donation, by contrast, affords the charities working on the ground much more flexibility to buy supplies as they’re needed. That doesn’t mean, however, that the clothes you were ready to donate have no value. Stage a yard sale or sell them to a consignment store and donate the proceeds.

Find the right charity
Easier said than done, right? So much of the recovery from a disaster comes down to the logistics, assessing ever-changing needs and funneling resources toward the proper channels. So, start there. Look for a nonprofit with a reputation for being professional and well-organized and either a deep history of helping in these sorts of emergency scenarios or a pre-existing presence in the region you want to help. It will know where it can have the greatest impact. It’ll also know how to avoid situations where the need will exhaust its resources.

It’s also sensible to keep your donations to that one charity, once you discover it, rather than spreading them among multiple organizations. For one, your donations are likelier to have a greater impact that way. It’ll also minimize your chances of being scammed. Unfortunately, in times of crisis, there is no shortage of people ready to take advantage of the outpouring of generosity. Before you make a single donation, confirm that the organization you’re giving to is a registered 501(c)(3). And, as a rule of thumb, don’t give to a charity that solicits your donation.

Consider the bigger picture
Some speculate that it could take a full generation to rebuild the most devastated parts of the Bahamas. While that may sound extreme, it’s not unusual. Every year, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, and other natural disasters cause levels of damage that take years to dig out from. We just stop hearing about them after a few weeks because the news cycle has moved on to the next crisis.

So, rather than making one large donation while the recovery effort has your full attention, approach it more like a partnership with your designated charity. Check in with them in a few months to ask how their needs have changed and you can continue to help. Or, establish a monthly, recurring donation.