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Crisis giving

Charity | Instant need calls for long-term strategy

Issue: "The Haiti quake," Feb. 13, 2010

Americans have a long history of responding generously to tragedies like the earthquake in Haiti. Christians, in particular, are often among the first to get into action by offering their time, talents, and treasure to relief efforts.

But can donors respond too quickly? The desire to assist those in desperate need is admirable, but in their haste, donors may not always act in the best long-term interests of the afflicted. Or they may react too hurriedly to slick advertising from professional fundraisers, thereby producing less effective gifts.

Of course, even legitimate charities need to raise money in order to operate. Recognizing the strong emotions that compelling images of suffering create, most charities formulate comprehensive strategies to capitalize on the donor's heightened will to act in times of crisis. When disaster strikes, predetermined fundraising plans are deployed to tap into the emotional need most have to help the hurting. The cameras will soon move on, and charities need to react immediately to raise as much money as possible. Experience confirms the emotional imperative to give has a relatively short life. But those same emotions allow donors to be prodded into tactical giving decisions of questionable merit when a thoughtful, strategic approach would be best.

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With so many aid groups clamoring for money, donors can easily be overwhelmed by the dizzying array of options presented to them over such a short period. Established aid groups with long histories, charities with recognizable names but only limited experience in providing emergency aid (but looking for easy access to the flood of money), celebrities with big hearts but no real relief experience, and outright scam artists all bombard givers with pleas to help. In view of all this, what is the well-intentioned donor to do?

Professional givers, such as Virgil Dugan, president of the Tijeras Foundation of Albuquerque, N.M., advises donors to "remember that the Haitian need is very long term; there will be many opportunities for gifts, investments, etc. Don't delay when you identify the specific opportunity for your gift, but don't get in a hurry to give based on simple emotion or public momentum." One common error is to overfund the groups engaged in immediate crisis response while those focused on longer-term, strategic restoration efforts are overlooked.

Wise donors understand that inevitability: They intentionally seek to give more to the strategic initiatives, knowing the early responders are very likely to get more than needed to accomplish their work.

While some larger charities have significant efforts in both immediate crisis response and longer-term revitalization, it's important to distinguish among such groups so well-intentioned giving isn't misallocated.

Churches and ministries also face falling revenue during crises. Alan Terwileger, senior vice president of Prison Fellowship, says that disaster-related giving declines are not normally either substantial or long lasting. Many donors try to maintain their normal giving while donating more to help victims of natural disasters. "Generally, we are able to make up the lost revenue in subsequent months," says Terwileger.

Giving wisely is not easy in crisis situations. In the end, Dugan suggests, "Be sensitive to the prompting of the Holy Spirit when special opportunities arise." There can be no better approach.

Related coverage:


'Still in shock' | Haiti is hit by a massive earthquake followed by aftershocks, with an epicenter near the capital, Port-au-Prince | Mindy Belz and Jamie Dean | Jan. 12, 2010
Helping Haiti | WORLD provides a list of relief organizations accepting donations to assist earthquake victims in Haiti | The Editors | Jan. 13, 2010
Search and rescue | U.S. disaster experts, the U.S. military, and private relief groups head to earthquake-devastated Haiti | Mindy Belz | Jan. 13, 2010
In the dark | Haitian-Americans hope to contact loved ones and quickly send aid back home to family and friends | Alisa Harris | Jan. 13, 2010
Weeping and waiting | Haitian earthquake victims await help, but obstacles slow relief efforts | Jamie Dean | Jan. 14, 2010
Desperation | Too many Haitians are in a holding pattern awaiting aid, as relief organizations try to make progress | Jamie Dean | Jan. 15, 2010
Long night | With tens of thousands of casualties, Haitians weep and wait for morning | Jamie Dean | Jan. 15, 2010
Deliverance | A group of orphans arrive safely in Pittsburgh while relief organizations report progress in Haiti | Mindy Belz | Jan. 19, 2010
Crying for help | Hard-pressed Haitians seek assistance as aid groups face logistical challenges | Jamie Dean | Jan. 21, 2010
Leaving Port | Beyond the capital city are rural communities equally devastated by the quake and in need of help | Jamie Dean | Jan. 22, 2010
The new normal | As life and death continue their morbid mingling, relief groups forge ahead to help | Jamie Dean | Jan. 22, 2010
Finding home | Now that search-and-rescue efforts have been called off, attention turns to providing shelter for survivors | Jamie Dean | Jan. 23, 2010
Chaotic aid | Relief groups attempt to help Haitians despite murky rules, government interference, and the lack of a cohesive plan | Jamie Dean | Jan. 28, 2010
Aftershock | Caregivers predict a second wave of death, as Haitians find moments of deliverance amid days of devastation from one of the modern world's worst natural disasters | Jamie Dean | Jan. 29, 2010
Homecoming | For Haitians orphaned before the quake, it means leaving home and starting over | Alisa Harris | Jan. 29, 2010
An indecent grief | First lamentations, then comfort that strengthens more than soothes | Mindy Belz | Jan. 29, 2010
Hope for Haiti? (audio file) | Hear WORLD news editor Jamie Dean discuss her visit to the earthquake-ravaged country | Nick Eicher | Feb. 1, 2010
Despair and salvation | While the UN grapples with unruly crowds, The Salvation Army peacefully distributes food | Jamie Dean | Feb. 2, 2010
Crossing lines | Failing to heed sound advice, 10 Americans now find themselves facing kidnapping charges in Haiti | Jamie Dean | Feb. 4, 2010
Haiti's plight (audio file) | A discussion of the country's days of devastation and moments of deliverance | Jamie Dean | Feb. 5, 2010
Stress management | Helping Haitians recover takes zeal-with wisdom | Jamie Dean | Feb. 12, 2010
Taking charge | In quake aftermath, build new cities, says Haitian ambassador (and Bible translator) Raymond Joseph | Mindy Belz | Feb. 12, 2010
Houses of God | Grand-Goave, Haiti | The Editors | Feb. 12, 2010
Living water | Water Missions International offers long-term solutions for clean, drinkable water | Angela Lu | Feb. 13, 2010
Building blocks | While Christian Aid Ministries provides for the immediate needs of quake victims, it looks ahead to helping the country rebuild | Angela Lu | Feb. 16, 2010
Close quarters | ActionAid helps homeless Haitians deal with sanitation and security issues at camps set up in Port-au-Prince | Angela Lu | Feb. 23, 2010
Hardest hit | With nearly half a million orphaned children before the quake, Haiti's challenge to parent them just got bigger | Jamie Dean | Feb. 26, 2010
The search for miracles | Port-au-Prince is a city desperately seeking turnaround-and that's before the earthquake | Jamie Dean | March 12, 2010
Hope in the darkness | World Hope International offers Haitians practical assistance and spiritual guidance | Angela Lu | March 24, 2010
Night crawlers | A new disaster threatens defenseless women and children in Haitian tent cities: rape | Jamie Dean | March 25, 2010
Homecoming | Missionary Patrick Lataillade, who nearly died in the quake, returned to help Haitians this week | Angela Lu | March 27, 2010
Hashing out Haiti | As the UN makes recovery plans, Haitians struggle for the basic necessities for survival | Jamie Dean | March 31, 2010

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