Tips for making helpful and lasting donations for disaster victims

(ARA) – When a natural disaster occurs, there is often an outpouring of support and compassion from individuals. Moved to make a difference in the lives of those touched by the unexpected, many citizens are eager to gather and send supplies, as well as volunteer their services. However, sending unsolicited supplies can actually hamper relief efforts.

There were more than 50 natural disasters by the start of September, according to the Center for International Disaster Information. With such a widespread impact, it is vital that people understand how and what to give to make the greatest difference for those dealing with a natural disaster.

“During my work with nonprofits around disaster relief I have been asked to ship everything from food and water to tents and pots and pans, phones, shoes, clothes, school supplies, you name it,” says Joe Ruiz, humanitarian relief program manager for The UPS Foundation. “While all are well-intentioned, many products offered do not address what’s needed now and can really strain relief efforts by clogging the transportation pipeline. It’s vital to couple good intentions with smart giving.”

Those who want to contribute to disaster relief efforts should consider the following:

* Donate money – Each disaster is unique. While there are commonalities among disasters, such as an immediate need for food, water and shelter, there is not a “one-size-fits-all” approach to relief because each circumstance presents its own set of challenges. Thus, financial contributions are often the best kind of donation to make. Providing cash also speeds economic recovery as relief organizations source supplies from local businesses. There are many relief organizations and agencies with considerable experience in areas such as clean-up, feeding, sheltering, first aid, crisis counseling, child care, home repair and pet care. When the public supports these organizations with financial donations, it helps ensure a steady flow of important services to those in need. The National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (NVOAD) offers a list of relief organizations involved in preparedness, prevention, response and recovery in the U.S. at InterAction communicates all member organizations supporting relief efforts in international communities.

UPS, for example, has pre-established in-kind agreements with relief organizations like the American Red Cross, Salvation Army, CARE, UNICEF, the World Food Programme and the Aidmatrix Network. The goal of these partnerships is to provide logistics support to deliver the right items to the right place at the right time.

* If donating goods, verify items will be accepted and used – Before taking action, contact a relief agency to confirm what items are needed. Do not begin collecting, packing or shipping until you have a known recipient who will accept the donation. It often takes days before first responders can assess local needs after a disaster. Shipments of donated goods should be well packed and labeled to make the unpacking, warehousing and distribution as simple as possible. If you are collecting goods, but haven’t found a match to a relief agency’s current need, consider holding a garage sale and donating the proceeds to the agency of your choice.

One resource for identifying agency needs (financial, donation of goods or volunteer time) is the Aidmatrix Network. The Aidmatrix Foundation connects corporate and individual donors to the needs of relief agencies – with the receiving agency or UPS providing priority transportation for donated goods.

For volunteers, take advantage of disaster assistance training – Often, people want to donate their time in addition to money and goods. If this is you, sign up for training before the next disaster strikes. Connect with an organization involved in disaster response and recovery. Volunteer centers in your area are an excellent source of information about opportunities to help after a disaster. Research organizations like for training opportunities.

The generosity and kindness of people goes a long way in helping communities heal following disasters. Relief efforts are maximized when the compassion of individuals is coupled with the expertise and support of businesses.

* Much like UPS remains in lock-step with its NGO partners to ensure the company is providing strategic support, it’s important that individual volunteers first coordinate their efforts with experienced disaster relief organizations so those in need of help receive it in the most timely and effective manner. Through smart giving, pre-disaster training and strategic volunteerism, individuals, nonprofits and businesses can have a profound impact on helping affected communities recover after a disaster.