“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”
-Fred Rogers of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood
The famous advice given by Fred Rogers’ mother is often quoted by philanthropists who yearn to help after a faraway disaster: tornadoes and earthquakes, tsunamis and floods, war, the sudden outbreak of disease, a large and senseless act of violence. When these events reach the news and touch the heartstrings, charitable people search for a way to participate in solutions. Here’s a roadmap for those moments:
- Start with dollars: For those first few days and weeks of a disaster, it’s hard to get goods into the affected zone. You may have a pile of blankets to donate but save those items for an event close to home. If you’re able to make a cash contribution quickly – online is fastest or send a gift of stock – your gift will help right away.
- Look for the first responders: For the first few days, experienced first responders – like the Red Cross and Red Crescent, or the White Helmets – will be the primary helpers on the ground, and they’re easy to find and give to. They’ll be most active for the first week post-disaster and then will fade away as local and international organizations take over. Search and rescue, medical help, food, and temporary shelter are typically the first needs.
- Prioritize existing networks: Organizations that have effective networks of volunteers, partners, and distribution channels before the disaster will have an advantage in getting materials and services to the affected area quickly. Assess organizations to which you consider giving – did they have programs in this geographic area before the disaster? Give local!
- Tap philanthropic resources: Look at the websites for the Center for Disaster Philanthropy and the Council on Foundations first; both provide advice to foundation funders, and you may find the background helpful. If the event happened in the US – or sometimes even outside the country – there may be a local community foundation. Google the location and “community foundation” and see if the giving experts on the ground have specific recommendations about organizations best placed to help quickly.
- Don’t forget recovery: Disaster outcomes are not solved by first responders. If you feel connected to a particular event, stay involved. Keep an eye on local news if you can – sometimes social media can help with this – and try to give in a way that addresses the root cause of the disaster and empowers the community to thrive in the future.
Bryn Mawr Trust is here to help with your charitable gifts. If you’d like specific advice about your philanthropy, including how to engage with any disaster event, reach out to us.
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