The news over the last several months has been dominated by humanitarian and natural disasters, from the devastating earthquakes in Turkey and Syria to the ongoing conflict in Ukraine to the active tornado season affecting the southeastern United States. In the aftermath of a disaster, many people immediately look for ways to help. But with so many organizations doing great work to support people in need, it can be overwhelming to decide where to give.
To narrow down the choices, it’s important to do some due diligence; to look under the hood of the organizations that you could potentially support. Additionally, remember that it’s not just about understanding where your money is going but also when it can make the greatest impact.
Here are five smart questions to ask to make the most of your giving in times of crisis.
Do You Agree with How the Nonprofit Is Approaching Its Response?
The issues that nonprofit organizations face, particularly at a time of crisis, are so large and challenging that there are many different ways to help. Be sure you understand and agree with the organization’s strategy and tactics, and that they align with what you believe is most critical.
Where to look: Information about how an organization is deploying its resources can often be found directly on its website. Take a close look at descriptions of current and previous initiatives involving crisis response to get a sense of the methods a nonprofit is using to achieve its goals. Consider what components of response or recovery the organization tends to focus on (medical services, temporary shelter, infrastructure rebuilding, etc.) and if they are on-the-ground leading efforts directly or serving as partners to other groups that are.
What Kind of Impact Will the Nonprofit Have?
In a crisis, you want to maximize the impact of your giving, but how can you adequately assess that? One measure is to consider the organization’s track record.
Where to look: To start, review any published results publicly shared. Many organizations will have reports, infographics, or other materials available on their website and even social media summarizing the impact they’ve achieved.
Additionally, there are a number of tools that can help. Sites like CharityWatch, Charity Navigator, Give, and GiveWell can provide a line of sight into the data and research used to measure an organization’s chosen methods and can add color to the effectiveness of their work.
Local media and community groups may also produce news, social media posts, and other content that offer a line of sight into how the nonprofit is being received by the community it is serving and if it is achieving outcomes that are truly beneficial to those impacted.
When Is the Organization Most Active?
Different organizations have different focuses when it comes to disaster and crisis relief efforts. When a given organization tends to step in following such events is an important piece of criteria by which to determine where you want to give.
Where to look: First, comb through the organization’s available materials on current and previous crisis response efforts to gauge the following: Does the organization deploy mostly first-response help in the immediate aftermath of a disaster and then step back once the most acute period of crisis passes? Or is their work rooted in the longer-term impact on the community with a focus on recovery and future prevention?
Another element to look out for when assessing their work is the lifecycle of their projects. Are these two-week periods of intensive emergency support, or do their efforts span months or even years with an emphasis on sustainable change? Looking at the timeline of a nonprofit’s initiatives can offer a window into the “when.”
The “when” is an often overlooked, but critical factor to consider when deciding where to direct your giving. In many cases, while immediate help is always necessary, long-term support is often where a greater shortage exists. And yet those resources are essential to things like building better-equipped homes, institutions, public services, and broader infrastructure that will allow communities to recover.
Is the Organization Transparent?
You’ll want to make sure the organization’s financial information is readily available. This is critical to ensuring your donation will be deployed as advertised.
Where to look: A couple key financial components to check are how their expenses track with their mission and budget and if they have filed a Form 990 with the IRS. Searching online to see if other reputable donors are giving to the organization is another way to ensure the organization is who they claim to be. If it seems like they are hiding something, it’s likely best to donate elsewhere.
Are They in Critical Need?
It’s important to understand how urgent an organization’s need for funding is. In a crisis, every organization needs resources, but for those that are less funded the need can be more urgent.
Where to look: One factor to consider in evaluating if an organization is in critical need is if they have local ties. Local nonprofits – particularly those working with marginalized communities – are often disproportionately impacted.
In the wake of a crisis, funds may be even more stretched. In addition, the way a nonprofit is soliciting donations can also be a clue. Calling out an immediate need for monetary support, volunteers, or other kinds of resources to execute specific initiatives may indicate an urgency for help.
When disaster strikes, it can be overwhelming to navigate the vast landscape of organizations doing work to offer relief to communities. With the right toolkit of questions, you can make sure your giving is going where it is most needed and where it will go the furthest in making a meaningful and lasting difference.