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Disaster relief: Guidelines for giving

Disasters are defined as accidents or natural catastrophes that cause widespread damage or great loss of life. Disasters are often unpredictable and can occur anywhere around the world. When disasters happen, survivors are often in need of assistance.

Disaster relief support is charitable giving at its finest. But helping after a disaster requires both forethought and strategy so donors can rest easy knowing their donations are going to the right place.

Work with reputable organizations

If your first inclination is to provide financial support, do so by working with a reputable charitable organization that has a proven track record with disaster relief. Charities like Oxfam, the Red Cross and Direct Relief International organize relief efforts and are first on the scene when disaster strikes. These groups may be more trustworthy than groups without a track record of success regarding disaster relief. According to the Center for International Disaster Information, financial contributions allow professional relief organizations to purchase what is most needed by disaster survivors, when it is needed. Also, cash donations allow relief supplies to be purchased near the disaster site, avoiding delays and steep transportation and logistical costs that can quickly eat up relief fund budgets.

Confirm the need before sending materials

Many people feel a desire to send material donations in addition to cash. Sometimes there are opportunities to do so, but do your homework before sending supplies, as some organizations ask that supplies not be sent.

If there is no need, unsolicited materials can cause supply delays, take up storage space and/or require additional funds to remove unnecessary items. Furthermore, the cost to ship material supplies (that may not be useful) can be expensive. Disaster relief organizations typically can secure the necessary supplies, which is why many organizations request only financial donations.

Get clearance before visiting disaster zones

Images of disaster zones can incite strong feelings that compel people to travel and help out in person. While that's a noble gesture, receive clearance before purchasing a plane ticket. The website HelpInDisaster.org can help people with specialized skills learn if there is a need for skilled workers or experts in a particular disaster zone. This ensures efforts can be sustained for as long as is necessary, and there will be no duplication of efforts. Working individually also may not be cost-effective, and you may compound the problem by causing more drain on an already jeopardized infrastructure.

Wait until media coverage has subsided

Many people rush to give in the first days following a disaster, only to have efforts trickle away as time passes and the limelight has stopped. Instead, wait out volunteering opportunities. You may find you are more effective afterward as rebuilding efforts begin anew.

Helping out after a disaster can be a fulfilling venture if timed correctly and done in the correct manner.