Monday, January 18

Helping Haiti: How To Respond Effectively

As the sheer scale of the destruction in Haiti caused by last week's 7.0 magnitude earthquake continues to reach people all over the world, the response has been overwhelming. So overwhelming that logistical logjams and the lack of an adequate supply chain may leave a majority of in-kind donations waiting for weeks before they can reach people in need.

"During these times of natural disaster, our first response is to donate food, clothing, and blankets to the disaster zone," said U.S. Congressman Kendrick B. Meek. "But this goodwill often causes delays in the supply chain providing recovery to those in danger."

In some cases, supplies are dropped and left on pallets for days before disaster relief organizations can move them to the most impacted areas. When supplies do arrive, some distribution points are disorganized enough that people in critical need are not the first to receive them. This is where communication becomes critical to any relief operation.

Timothy Ogden, writing for the Harvard Business Review, outlined four components that companies need to consider before making a pledge for support. They are important considerations in that Ogden recognizes that donations tend to spike in the immediate aftermath but fall short during reconstruction.

• Don't earmark donations for the short term.
• Research and choose experienced organizations.
• Consider monetary donations over in-kind contributions.
• Look ahead for potential long-term commitments that count.

For individuals, lending support can seem even more daunting. Every day, Haiti tops the conversations on social networks, but the call for support tends to be undirected. Bloggers Unite, which is a not-for-profit social network that helps direct bloggers to raise awareness and funds for causes in need, is attempting to direct some of the communication toward nonprofit organizations that meet the criteria.

The Bloggers Unite for Haiti home page includes three international organizations — Doctors Without Borders, Unicef, and Care — with direct donation information.

In addition to directing people toward those international organizations, all of which have experience in the area, the American Red Cross has developed a response page that helps individuals learn how to invest their donations, ranging from International Response and Haitian Relief and Development funds to broaden efforts such as service to the armed forces or wherever the need is the greatest.

For companies, specifically, choosing a broader approach to disaster relief might not amount to a timely news release, but will help organizations that are temporarily diverting funds to meet the immediate relief efforts. Without long-term or broad support, these organizations often find their ongoing programs challenged after an immediate crisis has abated and the media has moved on to cover the next story.

The takeaway is simple. Individuals and organizations do the most good when they respond to a crisis or disaster as opposed to reacting to it. You can help Haitian people the most by making direct donations to organizations like the American Red Cross or those listed at the Bloggers Unite page and by directing others who want to help to do the same.


Rich on 1/18/10, 1:55 PM said...

More words:

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – Troops, doctors and aid workers flowed into Haiti on Monday and officials said billions of dollars more will be needed following the quake that killed an estimated 200,000 people and left many still struggling to find a cup of water or a handful of food.

European nations pledged more than a half-billion dollars in emergency and long-term aid, on top of at least $100 million promised earlier by the U.S. The president of the neighboring Dominican Republic said it will cost far more to finally rebuild the country: $10 billion. — Associated Press

Amitai Givertz on 1/18/10, 7:31 PM said...

Rich, thanks for your thoughtful and timely post.

Indeed, we should be conscious of the supply chain issues and getting relief to the people in Haiti expeditiously. I'd also like to suggest we bear in mind that the magnitude of the problem, as measured in terms of immediate need and human suffering, extends beyond little ol' Hispaniola.

It seems that human suffering born of natural and man-made disasters has no end. I would encourage your readers to take 30 cents of every dollar they would give to Haiti and remember the just-as-needy in places as far flung as Niger, Sierra Leone, Eritrea and Somalia -- among the poorest countries in the world.

As we respond to the need that has exploded into our livings rooms and collective consciousness, please let's not forget the equally miserable people who can barely muster a blip on our daily radar.

30 cents? In the overall scheme of things I'm not sure that "shortfall" will impact relief efforts in Haiti. Forgetting the already forgotten will.

There are many agencies that will take donations-in-kind. If we cannot send our blankets and cast-off clothes to Haiti, let's ship them somewhere else, no?


Thanks for the platform, Rich.

Rich on 1/19/10, 9:52 AM said...


I think that it is very sensible approach and stands a greater chance of making a long-term impact by helping people appreciate sustained giving does good.

In general, it might even be the other way around.

If individuals designated even 1-10 percent of their income to charity every year, they could reserve 50 cents on every donation dollar for ongoing contributions, 20 cents on every donation dollar for flexible giving, and 30 cents on the donation dollar for an immediate crisis like Haiti.

If everyone did that, the world would be a better place and perhaps government wouldn't always compelled to try to do it for us. However, that would require a dramatic cultural shift.

All my best,


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