Something big and
bad has happened. How can you help?
Few organizations accept spontaneous walk-in volunteers. Sure, they
want help, but weirdos show up with the volunteers. The organization
will be held responsible for everything the weirdos do, both
financially and with damage to their reputation. The are also
financially responsible for everyone who hurts themselves while
There are a lot of things you can do to become a valuable volunteer
before the disaster strikes, but very little afterward. Consider
joining an organization like one of these:
Join a local disaster relief or readiness organization like CERT
(Community Emergency Response Team). See https://www.fema.gov/community-emergency-response-teams
Join a private disaster relief organization. The Red Cross is perhaps
the most well known. See http://www.redcross.org
Most church denominations have a disaster relief organization. These
are often specialized and very effective.
Become a volunteer fireman. See http://www.volunteerfd.org/become-a-volunteer-firefighter
Volunteer with your local police department. There are many ways to do
this, from learning how to direct traffic to becoming an auxiliary
police officer. Find what programs your police have.
Donating money, whether a large amount or a small one, is always
helpful. Most volunteer organizations can’t do anything without
Donating goods is still good, but not as helpful as cash. Volunteers
need to spend time sorting the goods, determining what can be used,
what must be thrown away, and what needs to be given to a different
organization. And finally, shipping the goods to the final destination
You can specify how the money is used when you donate. This is both
good and bad. It’s good to be sure the money will go to something you
approve of, but overspecifying ties the organization’s hands.
For example, relief organizations responded to many disasters in 2005.
They had a hard time funding most of these efforts, but they had more
money than they needed for Hurricane Katrina relief. Money donated for
Katrina could only be used for that.
Money donated for “disaster relief” may or may not be used for the
disaster you are thinking of, but it will help somebody.
Beware of scammers when donating. They use names, email addresses, and
web sites that sound like legitimate organizations. Also, if the
organization contacts you, it might not be legitimate.
If you are being pressured, you are being scammed. Don’t wire money,
give cash, or write checks to individuals. Don’t give until you verify
that the organization is legitimate.
There are also shady semi-legitimate organizations that use most of the
money for the owner's salary.
Consider overhead expenses, also. Small organizations can use most of
your donation for relief. Larger ones have more administration and
overhead expenses. Yet there are some things that only a large
organization can do.
Fundraising expenses are another consideration. External fundraising
organizations take a percentage of the funds raised. If the
organization contacts you, it may be a fundraiser acting on their
Gifts by credit card are subject to a processing fee.
Start-up charities that bear the name of the specific disaster may not
have the experience, personnel, or resources to be effective. Some of
them have a narrow focus and can do a great job at the one thing.
If giving to provide relief from a specific disaster, first verify that
the organization has a presence on the ground in the affected area.
Giving money to a church operating in the disaster area is usually a
very effective way to give, but only if you specify the money is for
disaster relief. Churches are usually a good donation bargain even in
the best of times, because most of the money provides services to
people one way or another.