Along with so many others, my heart is breaking for Nepal. When images of unfathomable disaster come across our screens, we just want to help relieve the suffering we see in any way we can.
I’ve spent most of my career working for international organizations that have disaster response as part of their portfolios. And through these years I’ve seen a lot of well-meaning people send their hard-earned money to organizations that don’t deliver what they promise. I’ve also seen a lot of good intentions make things worse. So, with that in mind, I offer four qualities that I look for in an organization and its response before I give:
- A good investment. Look up the organization in Charity Navigator or another charity watchdog to see how it measures up. I want to see that most of the funds (at least 80%) go directly to programs.
- A response that starts with the community. Does the organization actually work with the survivors? Different communities have different needs and priorities. A proper response listens to what community members say is a priority. The first permanent structures may not be houses, but a community center. The location for where (or how) water should be distributed might not be obvious to an outsider.
- A response that empowers survivors in their recovery and gives them the tools to continue it long after the outside organization has gone. Disaster recovery is more than just cleaning up and giving survivors food, water and shelter. They need a permanent home. They need to replace lost income. They need long-term help to fully get back on their feet. There are a lot of organizations in Nepal right now that are doing the critical work of saving lives. There’s also a lot of money flowing to that work. But, who will be there this fall when the weather starts to turn cold again and people are still living under tarps? The organization that’s still there, helping people is the one I want to support.
- A response that invests in the community. The organization looks for local laborers to rebuild so they can get back to work and provide for their families, educates local leaders on community organizing, trains individuals with new job skills to help them better provide for their families, purchases materials locally as much as possible, and the like. Bringing in outside help without investing in the local resources builds dependency.