By Adrian Fradd 20 January 2010

The earthquake in Haiti has sparked a massive wave of giving from around the world. People are sending money in via the internet, donating through mobile phone texts and social networks, like Facebook and Twitter, and using a huge range of innovative methods (see here for more examples) to raise money and get the message out there. This is great. And just like in the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami, it is amazing to see people inspired by a desire to help people they’ve never met, in a country they probably couldn’t even locate on a map a week ago.

But I get a sense that people are a bit more cynical after 2004. Since the tsunami relief work, there have been a succession of stories about wasted aid money, poor coordination, and duplicated services. This has carried over into a lot of the media reports in the Haiti disaster—whether it’s the work of the UN or the time it takes to land aircrafts carrying aid. And in the conversations I’m having with people there is a degree of scepticism about what actually their money will achieve.

In a way this scepticism is good. NPC is all about people thinking about the end impact of their money and what it is actually achieving. But there is a danger when talking about the fact that not all charities are equally good, that people will start believing that all charities are equally bad. NPC has always been wary about publishing negative reports on organisations in case it fuels any anti-charity feeling and reduces the amount of money given. The tendency for people to label charities as automatically inefficient, badly-run, and administratively bloated may play well at dinner parties, but is equally lazy as the person that says all charities are great.

But with the disaster in Haiti, as with all other areas of giving, it is key to look at the information out there about what is most effective. And while there may not be much robust data on either Haiti or disaster relief efforts (and NPC has no expertise in these areas), there are people out there grappling with the question of where people’s money can have most impact, such as here, here, and here.

Many of these blogs highlight the same lessons that NPC tries to promote in its work in the UK: the importance of giving to strong organisations; not tying the donation down; and not judging an organisation based on administrative costs. They also recommend a few organisations to fund, such as Partners in Health; while this Guardian article has a longer list of different organisations working in Haiti. Spending a bit of time on this, as well as a bit of money, can help make all the difference.

But what factors are people actually using when deciding where to give?