On Monday, the world watched in horror as two deadly earthquakes hit Turkey and Syria in quick succession. So far, almost 10,000 people have died, and rescue efforts have been frustrated by an onslaught of aftershocks and freezing temperatures.
Many people, both professional funders and individuals, are asking how they can support the relief effort. Of course, every crisis has its own set of specific circumstances and features, but we think there are two key guiding principles behind supporting an effective emergency response.
These principles can be applied to large or small donations and are applicable to situations beyond Turkey and Syria. They are therefore quite broad but following them should make it more likely that your donation will achieve a greater impact.
Understand the risk and your own appetite for it
The main risk in a fast-moving emergency with lots of organisations scrambling to help is that your donation is not used effectively, or worse it is misused or misappropriated. This is a risk with any donation, but in emergency circumstances donors need to decide what risks they are comfortable with.
There are general checks you can do on an organisation to increase your confidence. If the organisation claims to be a UK registered charity, check their charity number against the Charity Commission database. You can also check their website, to get a sense of what experience they have. For details on their work and finances, you can read their annual report, which should be published on their website.
Of course, in some situations there will be many organisations that don’t have any of these things. With the rise of crowdfunding and direct donations online, donors can support a wider range of organisations than ever before.
Local groups may have a better on the ground understanding than the more ‘official’ multinational charities. However, it can be difficult to ascertain whether organisations are truly local or legitimate. Online searches may help here. In the end, you may decide that the value of your donation at this critical time outweighs the risk of it being diverted.
Donors from the UK also have to contend with rules around sending money overseas.
Depending on the recipient country, there may be laws in place barring money transfers to protect against the funding of terrorism and to uphold economic sanctions. This is unlikely to apply to individuals but it is worth checking in your jurisdiction—especially if you are making a large donation.
Donate in a way that makes a difference
If donating to a UK registered charity, it is important to try and understand what connection they have to the crisis, to the region, and if their decision-making is informed by people on the ground with a good understanding of what is going on. You want to know that your donation is going to make a difference.
When crises occur, there are often experts in disaster relief operating on the ground. They will likely have a better idea of what is needed than you do, so check to see what organisations like the Red Cross / Red Crescent, Médecins Sans Frontières, UK for UNHCR, Islamic Relief UK and International Rescue Committee are suggesting and consider giving them an unrestricted donation which they can spend on whatever is needed in the crisis zone.
When it comes to your actual donation, you should give money rather than goods. Clothes and food, also known as in-kind donations, are costly to sort and ship. Organisations will often be able to buy goods at lower prices in the region through donated funds. And finally, it is important to remember that costs are incurred for every donation made, for example bank processing costs or organisational administrative costs. It is therefore best to make one larger donation rather than several smaller ones.
Whenever a rapid response is needed there can never be any guarantees about the impact your donation will make. But making a conscious, well thought through decision gives your donation the best chance of making a difference to the people affected.