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.