How to Donate Impactfully After a Disaster

How to Donate Impactfully After a Disaster

By Charlotte Friedman, Senior Program Officer, Center for Designed Philanthropy

In recent years, we have seen an increase in natural and human-made disasters. Antisemitic acts, mass shootings, pandemics, floods, earthquakes, wildfires, wars, and humanitarian disasters have dominated the media cycle and have had devastating effects on communities. In the aftermath of these tragedies, we often feel the urge to take immediate action. We want to offer support to communities in need, but don’t know where to start.

Many of us ask questions like: How can I ensure my dollars are being used appropriately? When is the best time to give after a disaster? How can I identify reputable organizations responding to a disaster? How can I mobilize my community to help?

Before you give to an organization, below are some key suggestions:

Immediate vs. Long-Term Recovery

As Jews, our particular responsibility toward mending our broken world (tikkun olam) compels us to respond quickly and urgently to crises in communities near and far. Consider donating both immediately following a disaster, and then revisiting the situation six months to a year later to see what important needs remain after the first wave of relief support. Research conducted by the Center for Disaster Philanthropy and Candid indicates that almost 100% of giving takes places within two months after a disaster. By the time a community is beginning to rebuild and repair its physical and social infrastructure, donations have significantly declined.

In addition to rebuilding physical infrastructure, natural and human-made disaster often leave communities with many ongoing mental health needs, and the organizations best equipped to address that challenge may emerge months later.

Large Organization vs. Small & Local Organization

After a disaster, there are hundreds of organizations vying for funding. Many individuals often face a dilemma of whether to donate to a larger, national/international organization, such as the Red Cross, the American Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), or the Jewish Federation, or to a smaller, local organization. There is no straightforward answer to this question.

Donations to major aid organizations play a crucial role in response efforts. Their relationships with donors may provide matching funds, and they often have key partnerships and programs already in place that can pivot quickly to address local needs. We recommend that if you are donating to a large, international organization, be sure to allocate your funds to the specific emergency relief efforts in the community impacted.

It can also be highly impactful to donate directly to local organizations that are well-respected and trusted in the community such as local food banks, community synagogues, or local human service organizations. Investing in the existing local resources within a community can have the additional benefits of building the capacity of the organization, thus ensuring long-term recovery for the community.

Remember to take the necessary steps to vet an organization and research it (or its fiscal sponsor) on Charity Navigator.

Flexible Funding vs. Targeted Funding

As a private funder, your dollars can provide significant flexibility after a disaster. The needs of the community are constantly changing and evolving. Rather than targeting your funds to a specific purpose (e.g. financial assistance for families), trust that the already vetted organization will use your dollars where they are needed most.

Dollars vs. Goods

Many individuals feel the urge to donate goods such as food, clothing, and medicine, to a community following a disaster. Donated goods are appreciated and can be a great way to engage your own community, particularly children and teens through school campaigns. Yet, the best and most effective way to help is to donate cash.

Donating cash allows the organization working on the ground to quickly respond to the changing needs of the community and provide culturally appropriate supplies and food. If you would like to organize a “drive” to mobilize your family and friends to contribute, consider starting a Tribute Fund at the Jewish Community Foundation.

Keep in mind that collaborative giving has the potential to make great impact, and that your social circle benefits greatly from your due diligence, which they may not have the time or resources to enact.

How The Foundation Can Help You

Throughout the year, we are available to help you reflect on how your values, personal experiences, and other factors that can inform your philanthropy. The same applies to a crisis situation. If supporting the Jewish community is generally a priority for you, we can help identify local Jewish organizations in the impacted community. If mental health support and recovery is meaningful to you, we can help determine the right timing so that you can address the long-term recovery needs of the community as they emerge. If you are passionate about addressing inequity and poverty, we can help find organizations that are led by, and serve, under-resourced communities.

Wherever you are in the process of your disaster response, The Foundation is available to assist you. Specifically, we encourage you to:

  • Reach out to our experts at the Center for Designed Philanthropy to help you determine where to give, vet an organization, and/or develop a disaster response strategy.
  • Open a Tribute Fund to mobilize your friends and family to amplify your response to a specific disaster.