Effective emergency assistance? A guide for disaster relief donations

This guest blog comes from Philipp Hoelscher, PHINEO’s expert for disaster relief. PHINEO is a German not-for-profit corporation, which offers guidance for social investors. NPC has worked with PHINEO as a strategic consultant. In this post Philipp explains the difficulties of disaster relief donations and how PHINEO’s new guide “Effective Emergency Assistance” can help.

The number and severity of natural disasters is constantly on the rise: in the last thirty years, the number of people affected by these catastrophes across the globe has increased by around 250 million to around 1.5 billion. These figures show that there is and will continue be a great need for disaster relief. But a higher number of affected people and greater damage does not necessarily mean more donations. It’s more a case of “the closer the personal relation to the disaster and the more affecting the pictures, the higher the willingness to donate”. And sometimes money is lacking where it’s required the most.

Effective donating for disaster relief faces a number of challenges: physical distance from the catastrophe, the emotionally fuelled, spontaneous urge of donors to send help, and a general mood of uncertainty. Donors cannot always be sure that aid organizations use the funds entrusted to them effectively to reap maximum benefits for the local population.

To combat this uncertainty, we published “Effective Emergency Assistance: A Guide for Disaster Relief Donations” together with our partner Allianz SE last week. The guide illustrates how donors and companies can turn their compassion and willingness to help into effective aid for affected people. The guide answers four essential questions donors should ask before making a donation: “When, how, to whom and how much should I donate?”

We’ve picked out a few of the guide’s most important points to consider when making disaster relief donations:

  1. Make a well-considered decision: Never let anyone put you under pressure as a donor. Take your time before you make a final decision and think about alternatives too. Maybe there is a less high-profile catastrophe that still needs your help.
  2. Donate money, not goods: Clothes, blankets, food—although in-kind contributions are popular, they tend to cause more problems than they solve. Sorting and transporting these items is an expensive business. Aid organizations can often buy goods at lower prices on the local market using donated funds, boosting the local economy at the same time.
  3. Don’t earmark your donation: Try not to specify a narrow purpose in your bank transfer form (e.g. ”Emergency aid for flood in Pakistan“). Specifying this sort of information means that aid organizations are obliged to use the funds solely for the purpose stated. Trust the organizations expertise when it comes to using the money in the way that will help the victims best.
  4. Support efficiency: Costs are incurred for every donation, for example for bank processing costs or the administrative costs incurred by the organizations in question. It makes more sense to make one larger donation as opposed to several small ones.
  5. Be sure the organization is transparent: Check that it is a recognized charity and can prove this with an exemption notice issued by the tax authorities.
  6. Think about impact: The recipients of your donation should be able to prove a successful track record with similar projects in the past. Independent evaluations published on organizations‘ websites are particularly valuable in this respect.
  7. Strengthen local capacity: People in areas hit by a natural disaster usually know better than anyone else what has to be done first. So try to donate to organizations that cooperate with local partner organizations and highlight this on their website.

We want to inspire people to make more conscious, strategic donations when giving to disaster relief. Stopping to think about giving, even when faced with an emergency appeal, will enhance the impact of each and every donation on the individuals affected.

You can download the guide from PHINEO’s website here (the English version is available in the download box on the right).