Donation Dilemma

Canadians want to aid those affected by a natural disaster, but many aren’t sure how best to help.


On November 8, 2013, Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines, killing 6,000 people and injuring many more. Immediately after the disaster hit, people around the world sprang into action, donating food, clothing and money.

If this scene feels like it’s getting more familiar every year, that’s because it is. According to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine, three times as many natural disasters occurred in the 2000s as in the 1980s. More devastation means more times Canadians are asked to help.

However, many people aren’t sure where to start. Should you give money? Donate food? Send clothes? According to Tanya Elliott, a spokesperson for the Red Cross, financial donations are always the best way to help. “Money allows us to procure items in the area, which cuts down on transportation costs and ensures what’s bought is culturally appropriate,” she says.

One mistake most people make is sending money in the days after a disaster occurs.

One mistake most people make is sending money in the days after a disaster occurs. Bob Ottenhoff, president and CEO of the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Disaster Philanthropy (CDP), says to wait a few months before donating money. There are usually enough funds to buy water bottles, emergency tents, first aid and other things people need in the initial aftermath, but it’s later on, when new water infrastructure, permanent housing or local businesses need to be resurrected, that the cash can come in handy. To help decide where to send your money, Elliott recommends checking out Imagine Canada, an organization that evaluates non-profits and lists accredited charities. Ottenhoff suggests looking for charities that have strong evaluation methods and actual information as to where the money goes.

Given that disasters are increasing investors should also look to fund projects or organizations that prevent a repeat disaster, says Ottenhoff. For instance, donate to organizations that help areas rebuild in a smarter way, such as using more resilient materials.

When it comes down to it, in this situation, philanthropy should be about helping make people and places safer post-disaster. “Ask yourself,” says Ottenhoff, “‘How do I make the community better than it was before?’”

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