RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Americans have been helping Japan by opening their wallets for donations that now total in the tens of millions of dollars.
NPR's Wendy Kaufman reports.
WENDY KAUFMAN: The donations have come from the likes of Lady Gaga, Wall Street bankers, major corporations and small individual donors. The Chronicle of Philanthropy has tallied the numbers and says, so far, Americans have contributed more than $87 million for relief efforts.
Stacy Palmer, editor of The Chronicle of Philanthropy, says that's just a fraction of what Americans gave in the days immediately following Hurricane Katrina and last year's earthquake in Haiti. But she says...
Ms. STACY PALMER (Editor, The Chronicle of Philanthropy): It's actually a good thing that people are giving less and holding back. That's exactly what disaster experts say is important to do, is to wait and see what the needs are before rushing to give.
KAUFMAN: In the fact, the Japanese have thus far discouraged many outside relief efforts. Palmer understands why.
Ms. PALMER: What happens after disasters, often, is that everybody wants to get involved and wants to help, lots of people coming in with lots of donated goods, often instead of helping, get in the way of really efficient disaster recovery.
KAUFMAN: So what happens to the money already donated to Japan that can't be spent there?
Saundra Schimmelpfennig, who writes a blog called Good Intentions are not Enough, says it all depends.
Ms. SAUNDRA SCHIMMELPFENNIG (Blogger, Good Intentions are Not Enough): If you gave to a general fund, then they'll just use it for other disasters, other projects.
KAUFMAN: But she says if you gave money to a charity that was specifically earmarked for Japan, that's where the charity has to spend it.
Drawing on her own experiences as a relief worker in Asia, she says sometimes poorly conceived projects get funded.
Ms. SCHIMMELPFENNIG: And so earmarking can force money to be spent in a way that it's not actually going to do the most good.
KAUFMAN: Her advice to those inspired to donate now: Give the money to organizations that are helping to prepare for future disasters. Or make a contribution to the general fund of a charity of your choice.
Wendy Kaufman, NPR News.