Employed for Good

A nonprofit professional's take on doing well while doing good.

When Disaster Strikes: 5 Reasons Why We Don’t Always Do Our Part

Recent natural disasters (especially those on/close to U.S soil) have presented  an important question: when disaster strikes, do we step up to the plate? For many, the answer has been a resounding, heart-felt yes.

For others…crickets.

Generally speaking, anyone can give back. Right? Our individual capacities may look different, but if we’re in good health and somewhat aware, then there’s usually something that we can do to chip in.

Still, some folks withdraw from the opportunity altogether. And we ought to know why. (Hint: it’s not because they just simply don’t care!)

When we’re called to step up, here are 5 roadblocks that can get in our way.

 1. The problem seems too big.

The devastation brought on by these disasters may just feel too big to tackle. It’s disheartening to see devastation play out on the news and social media, because it’s a reminder that the need is far larger than what we can sometimes give.

But keep in mind, our contribution is one piece of a larger pie. And with monetary contributions specifically, something is always better than nothing. (*Some people believe this is true of all donations, but here’s why that isn’t always the case.)


2. The solution isn’t clear.

In the wake of any disaster, almost immediately, we start to hear about supplies drives, fundraisers, crowdfunding campaigns and other efforts to help victims. While it’s usually great to have options, this can also be confusing: which way is the right way to go?

Ultimately, it depends. A supply drive is a great option if those supplies are things that victims need at the moment. Online fundraising pages are great for supporting specific projects, if you decide that you’re comfortable giving to an individual/group as opposed to donating through an organization channel. It’s really on you to decide where you’re most comfortable putting your time and money.


3. Concern over spam organizations and fake charities.

Unfortunately, natural disasters present two distinct opportunities: one for those who sincerely want to help, and another for those who want to take advantage of that generosity. Still, this fact shouldn’t stop us from supporting well-intentioned efforts. It’s unfair to associate one potential bad apple with the rest!

That’s why we do our part and look out for any red flags. The Federal Trade Commission has their own guidelines on how to avoid scam charities, and here are some tips borne specifically from the wake of Hurricane Harvey. Other quick things I tend to look for:

  • If the website URL ends in .org/.edu (*Note: this doesn’t appear to be a hard rule, but many US nonprofits follow this norm.)
  • The website itself. Does it have details on the nonprofit’s mission, programs and founding?
  • Guidestar.org. I mostly give to U.S charities, and I’ve never met one that wasn’t registered on Guidestar. They provide financials, governance and other critical information about registered US charities, at no cost. It’s an awesome service for organizational transparency!


4. Concern over established charities mishandling their resources.

Things like this do very little for public confidence in charity work and the nonprofit sector. Although not rampant, it can dissuade many of us (especially the natural-born skeptics) who don’t have faith that their donation will be put to good use. How can we guarantee that the money and time we put into something actually goes to the people who need it?

The truth is, you can never know for sure that your contribution is going exactly where you want. (Actually, 100% of any donation can’t go “directly” to victims, because of other costs that are critical to delivering on mission.) But we can still do our homework, and look to watchdog groups like CharityWatch, CharityNavigator and the BBB Wise Giving Alliance for guidance.


5. The call to action isn’t there.

It sounds bad, but it’s true: sometimes, people just don’t give because no one has made it easy enough. We may feel concerned and saddened by the natural disasters that play out across the world, but if we aren’t getting emails about ways to donate or if no one is running a supplies drive in our towns, then we miss out on the generosity of folks who would participate simply because the opportunity is there.

As someone who works in nonprofit, I’ll admit that I’m even an example of this. Right after Hurricane Harvey, I told myself for days that I needed to set aside time to figure out which charity I wanted to give to. When my local YMCA emailed me about donating to their Houston chapter later that week, the barrier was immediately gone. Regardless of whether it’s right or wrong, sometimes involving others just boils down to asking them flat-out!

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