Donor Guide to Appropriate Giving

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					                                                                 Donor Guide to
                                                              Appropriate Giving

Appropriate Giving during a Disaster

The media attention that often follows an international disaster brings about a compassionate
response from Americans. We want to share our excess clothing, blankets, food, and other
household items. And we often feel that simply writing a check isn’t enough. This leads to
questions about the most appropriate ways we can help disaster victims in other countries. This
guide is an attempt to answer these questions.

In this guide, we use the term “material donation” to refer to donations of “things,” as opposed
to cash. Material donations, sometimes referred to as “Gifts In Kind,” could consist of any new or
used item that is donated to a relief effort. The cautionary messages about material donations are
targeted solely at unsolicited, individual material donations. By this, we mean the spontaneous
outpouring of donated things from individual Americans seeking to respond to media reports of
a disaster. We are not referring to corporate bulk donations or services, which may be specifically
requested by professional disaster relief organizations responding to a crisis.

Financial Gifts Increase Flexibility:
    • Financial gifts allow disaster relief professionals to procure exactly what is needed in a
       disaster situation.
    • Cash donations are the most efficient donation because it does not use up scarce
       resources such as transportation routes, staff time, and warehouse space and because it
       can be transferred very quickly.
    • Cash donations do not require transportation costs, which can outweigh the value of
       materials donated.
    • Financial contributions support the economy of the disaster-stricken region.
    • Cash donations prevent culturally, dietary, and environmentally inappropriate giving.
    • More on why cash donations are the most desirable can be seen at “Advantages of Cash
       Donations.” (See below)

Material Donations Can Also Help if Handled Properly
If handled appropriately, donated materials can add value to disaster response efforts. If you do
decide to donate materials rather than cash, then there are steps you can take to ensure that your
donation is made in such a way as to benefit the affected people while avoiding some of the
problems often associated with donated material.

Before you collect anything...
The most important step when donating materials is to contact an established, professional relief
organization before you collect anything. For information on how to appropriately donate
material, contact Heart to Heart International directly.

Uses for Material Donations
If you have already collected material to donate to disaster victims in another country and now
can’t find a reputable relief organization to accept it, you are not alone. With the best of
intentions, people often collect first and then ask questions later.

Advantages of Cash Donations

Financial contributions allow professional relief organizations to provide much needed,
culturally appropriate assistance to disaster victims in a timely, efficient manner that supports the
local economy.

When deciding between making a financial donation or donating materials, keep in mind the
following reasons why cash is often preferred.

Five Reasons Why Cash Is Best

1.   Needs-Based Procurement: Cash allows disaster relief professionals to procure exactly what
     is needed in a disaster situation.

     The donating public usually does not have access to a professional and accurate evaluation of
     victims’ needs. Often, lists of needed goods found in the media are based on incorrect
     assumptions or faulty assessments. In addition, these lists are often not specific enough to be
     useful. Even if a good list is used, donors have no way of knowing who else will be making
     similar donations. A well-meaning public may unintentionally donate materials that are
     already available at the disaster site or to meet needs that the disaster did not create.

     Cash contributions allow disaster relief professionals and the affected people themselves to
     purchase exactly what is needed in the right quantities. Cash contributions, in other words,
     allow for disaster relief to be demand-driven (based on victims’ needs) rather than supply-
     driven (based on what goods have been donated).

2.   Efficient Delivery: Cash is the most efficient donation because it does not use up scarce
     resources and because it can be transferred very quickly.

     Because relief supplies can almost always be purchased at or near the site of a disaster, relief
     professionals prefer to purchase them locally. This frees up transportation routes, staff time,
     warehouse space, and other crucial commodities, which are in very short supply during a
     disaster. Items purchased locally can also be delivered to those in need more quickly than
     material donations.

3.   Lower Costs: Cash donations do not require transportation costs, which can outweigh the
     value of materials donated.

     The cost to sort, package, and transport individual, material donations to disaster victims is
     often greater than the cost of purchasing the items locally. And unlike donated materials,
     cash donations entail no transportation cost. When a disaster strikes a poor country, it is very
     important to make every dollar stretch as far as possible. Purchasing relief supplies locally is
     one way of stretching that dollar.

4.   Economic Support: Cash supports the economy of the disaster-stricken region.

     When relief supplies are purchased locally, cash is pumped quickly back into an economy
     that desperately needs it. This is why relief professionals try to use local market structures
     (vendors, shippers, etc) to distribute aid whenever possible. The long-term goal after any
     disaster is to return people to self-sufficiency. Disaster assistance efforts that support local
     markets contribute to this goal.

     While cash donations support a local economy, inappropriate material donations may have
     the opposite effect. Material donations may compete with local vendors who are selling
     similar items. Recipient governments often have to pay significant costs to unload, transport,
     and distribute donated material. If unusable by the local population, the country may also
     have to pay for destroying the donations.

5.   Cultural and Environmental Appropriateness: Cash donations can be used to purchase
     supplies that are appropriate to the local culture and environment.

     There are many cultural and environmental factors to consider when providing disaster
     relief, and the American public may be unfamiliar with the local climate, culture, and tastes.
     For example, clothing must be suitable to the local climate and to religious, social, and
     political sensibilities. Food must be familiar to the affected people and fit within their overall
     consumption patterns. Equipment requiring electricity must have the right voltage (if,
     indeed, there is electricity at all).

These are only a few examples of the complex issues inherent in aid delivery. Disaster relief
professionals are trained to understand these complexities and usually have the advantage of
years of experience in a particular region. Relief experts use cash donations to purchase supplies
that fit within the wider context of social, religious, political, and environmental issues.

     o   “When inundated with used clothing and blankets, relief agencies spend tremendous resources on
         washing, disinfecting, sorting, packing, and shipping” (Do Something: Your Kit to Help You Get
         Involved, Adventist Development and Relief Agency).

     o   “Because communities hit by disasters generally experience significant economic loss, buying
         goods locally also helps to stimulate the weakened economy by pumping money back into area
         businesses” (Gifts of Goods & Services for Disaster Relief, American Red Cross).

     o   “Cash donations to experienced disaster relief voluntary agencies enables them to purchase exactly
         what is most needed by the victims and helps the local economy recover from the disaster too”
         (Cash Donations for Hurricane Victims Best Way to Help, Federal Emergency Management
         Agency, September 23, 1998).


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