How to donate after Hurricane Harvey

There’s a disaster in the world, so, sure as night follows day, the Red Cross fundraising machine has groaned back into action, helped by millions of well-meaning individuals on various social media platforms. The pictures of devastation are all over the TV, people want to Do Something, and all too often the first and last thing they Do is to donate to the Red Cross.

Don’t be that person. Don’t give money to the Red Cross. There is no reason to believe that the Red Cross will be particularly effective in Texas, and the Red Cross itself has given almost no details about what it’s doing in the region, how much money it’s spending, and what it will do with any extra donations.

Also, don’t think that there’s any particular urgency here. Disaster-relief capabilities can’t be built up overnight; the people who have them will use them, and insofar as they’re insufficient, which they surely will be, money now will be far too late to build an effective response to a disaster which has already happened.

A hurricane of this magnitude wipes out entire communities. Coastal Texas will be in real need not just for days or weeks, but for months and even years. So if you’re giving, think about giving to local organizations which will be around for the long haul, rather than national or international charities which will parachute in and then leave once the TV cameras have gone.

And whatever you do, don’t donate stuff (clothes, diapers, canned goods, etc) unless you are on the ground in the affected area and know exactly who is going to distribute it, to whom, and how. Take the money you would spend on buying or replacing that stuff, and just give the money instead.

Remember, too: There are lots of worthy organizations in coastal Texas which do sterling work even when there isn’t a disaster to respond to. The food banks, in particular, are a great place to donate to Texans in need: you might want to start with Galveston, Corpus Christi, and Houston, as well as the Texas Diaper Bank.

Will these particular organizations rise to the occasion and react effectively and efficiently to the unprecedented devastation of Hurricane Harvey? Some will, some won’t: it’s far too early to tell. If you want to wait and see, that’s entirely reasonable. On the other hand, if you want to give now, then it makes sense to give to an organization with a long history of helping the region’s neediest. Even if it’s not a purpose-built disaster relief shop, your money will still go to a very good cause.

As for purpose-built disaster relief shops, some are better than others, but disaster relief by its nature is inefficient, and dominated by the government. What’s more, the best time to give to such organizations is before disaster hits, not after. If you’re giving after the fact, do be sure to give unrestricted donations, so that your money can be put to the best possible use.

If you want to give to Hurricane Harvey disaster relief specifically, then staying local is a good idea. I can’t personally vouch for the Coastal Bend Disaster Recovery Group, but it seems like a good place to start, and it’s certain to be a better place to donate than the Red Cross.

Try to remember, as well, that there are ongoing disasters happening around the world which aren’t getting saturation news coverage. Eastern Nigeria, Somalia, and South Sudan are all in major crisis, and Yemen is probably bigger than all of them put together. (Yemen, however, is one of those crises where individual donations are sadly not going to be much help: only the international community will really be able to make a difference.)

If Hurricane Harvey has spurred you to put your hand in your pocket, then, that’s great. Giving generously to people in need is always a good idea. So give today, when a disaster is dominating the news, and give next month, when the need in Texas and around the world will be less well covered. Give whenever you can! Just, please, don’t make your donation to the Red Cross.

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