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BLOG: Get More Out Of Giving

By • Mar 6th, 2014

In the wake of a disaster, or in the face of endemic poverty, every donation is helpful, right?

In the U.S. people often feel compelled to reach out and help in any way they can when they hear about a country in need. It’s human instinct to offer support in all possible ways. We all want to feel like we are doing something to make a difference in the lives of those affected by a disaster, war or other life altering events. But are we making a difference?

Most people don’t realize that we are too frequently limiting our impact with inefficient giving. Fortunately, there some steps we can all take to make sure that when we give we’re making the most of our donations. Read on to learn more about how the giving process works, what happens to your donations after you’ve made them, and how to give more efficiently in the future.

A young girl in front of government funded housing in Guiuan, the Philippines, January 2014.

Skip clothing for relief and give hand-me-downs to organizations that serve your local community
Most of us have gently used clothing, shoes, toys and other items that we no longer need. Many of us have them around the house or in storage just waiting to be donated. It is common for people to see a major disaster as an opportunity to pass those items on to others who might need them. However, the logistics of delivering and distributing a large volume of unsorted items to a country which has been torn apart by disaster and lacks infrastructure often results in those items being stored in warehouses or discarded by those on the ground who don’t have the means to organize them and hand them out. In short, the items don’t get to where you intended them to go, and can actually end up costing organizations that try to deliver them money in the long run. When donating material items like clothing and shoes, an organization within your own community that is equipped to distribute the items (such as Goodwill or a local thrift shop) is your best chance for getting them to the people who can really use them quickly and without waste.

Bulk donations are best left to corporations and large businesses
In November 2013, when the largest storm ever to make landfall devastated the Philippines, many of us watched in dismay as storm-affected citizens pleaded with media and the public to please send food and water. In situations like post-typhoon recovery in the Philippines, many of us here at home want to send food, water, toiletries, medicines and other supplies that are needed in the immediate aftermath. What most people don’t realize is that the logistics of coordinating, organizing, packing and shipping a large volume of small donations from many different sources not only causes costs to escalate, but also delays the shipment of those much-needed materials to the areas that are waiting for them. For these reasons, organizations like Operation USA prefer to work with large businesses and corporations who can provide entire truckloads or containers of materials that can be easily packed and transported, getting them on the ground quickly. While in-kind donation offers from individuals are appreciated, we are able to work much faster and more efficiently when dealing with large scale donations and pre-packed items in bulk. If you aren’t able to provide (or connect us with someone who can provide) a large in-kind donation, the best way to help in this area is to make a monetary donation in support of shipping costs.

Look at the big picture and commit to long term recovery
When a community needs help following a major disaster, there is a sense of urgency to get involved, especially when media coverage is 24/7 and emotional appeals tug at our heart strings. However, it is important to remember that the road to recovery is long and challenging, and will take much longer than a few weeks or months for countries affected by disaster to rebuild and repair infrastructure. There are many ways to get involved, and opportunities will continue to present themselves in the months and years after a disaster has struck. Sign up for email lists and follow your favorite organizations on social media to stay informed. Even if you don’t see any opportunity to help in the short term, there will always be more ways to generate a lasting impact in the long term. Plus, you never know who you know–ask around among friends and family to see if anyone has a connection or works for a company that might help.

Think Outside the Box
Once you’ve made the decision to get involved and lend your support, it’s a good idea to pause and think about your options so you can hone in on the best way to help. If you don’t have the means to help organizations providing immediate relief, it may be a better decision to pledge to a future recovery project. It is also beneficial to think about the resources you have available to you. Do you work for a major corporation? Inquire as to whether they will make a bulk in-kind donation, or if they’ll match employee giving during a fundraiser. Do you have a special cause that is near and dear to your heart, like education? Research organizations that will focus on rebuilding schools in disaster-affected areas and learn how you can donate to specific campaigns or get involved as a volunteer. Are you limited in how much money you can donate? Start a fundraiser in your community or enlist friends and family to donate or help raise funds–a little from everyone adds up to a lot!

Make the greatest impact with a monetary donation
While giving money may not seem like the most personal or tangible way to make a difference, the fact is that organizations like Operation USA that have years of experience and partners all over the world can make the most of every penny that you donate. As long as you’ve done your research and give to an organization that has a history of success and is transparent with financials, you can rest assured that you are making an impact–in the immediate aftermath and the long term recovery process–when you give a financial gift.

It is always admirable and much appreciated when Americans jump at the chance to help people affected by disaster, war and other life-altering events around the world. Operation USA is lucky to have so many thoughtful and committed supporters. This year, we’re challenging all our donors to help spread the word about more efficient giving, and we hope that everyone who makes a donation will understand how efficient giving helps us make an even greater impact on the lives of those who need it most.

Click here to donate to Operation USA now.