Following news of a disaster you may want to help, but how? Do you donate money? Food? Clothes?
Every disaster is different and relief organizations may reach out for different forms of aid depending on that disaster’s specific needs. But, I recently learned that – generally speaking – cash donations often provide the most benefit to the victims and impacted communities.
Last month, I participated in a two-day Local Volunteer and Donations Management training provided by my state. It was during this training that I learned the benefits of cash versus donated goods.
It may feel less impersonal to donate actual goods, but cash provides a greater value overall. In fact, it can actually cost more to move the items you donate to those impacted than it would if the cash was used to buy those same items local to the impacted community.
As an example, let’s say a business organizes a community drive to collect goods for a disaster in a nearby state. A family goes to their local grocery store and buys a number of canned goods before dropping them off at the collection point. These canned goods – as well as the other items donated – are boxed up and loaded on to a truck donated by a trucking company. That company agrees to cover the cost of the truck, driver and gas. Next, the truck is driven to the impacted community. That community must have people, likely volunteers, prepared to receive, sort and distribute those donations. When you factor in the cost of packaging, transporting and distributing the donations, one 85 cent canned good ends up costing at least $10.*
Additionally, cash allows relief organizations to help those impacted purchase items they need in order to recover and return to “normal” life. For example, in order to do his job a construction worker may need size 11 steel-toed boots. He cannot return to work without them, but his have been completely damaged in the disaster. By donating cash to a relief organization, that organization can then provide the construction worker with a voucher to purchase the specific boots he needs.
Donated money can be used to purchase items from within the communities impacted, channeling money into the local economy, allowing those businesses to stay open and continue employing members of the community.
In some cases, money can also be set aside to fund longer term recovery needs that may not be apparent in the initial period after the disaster.
When donating to a relief organization following a disaster, be sure to check it out first. Sites like Charity Navigator can help you avoid fake charities that often pop up following disasters.
*Source: FEMA’s Local Volunteer and Donations Management training handout
Heather B. joined Empathia in 2004 and is a Communications Specialist. She has a bachelor’s degree in Mass Communications from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. She is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Theological Studies through Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.