In Aftermath Of Haiti Disaster, The Search For Charities Surges
LYNN NEARY, host:
As we just heard, the need for help in Haiti is immense and scores of Americans have responded by opening their pocketbooks.
Today, donors have already pledged millions of dollars to relief organizations. Some are turning to a new way of giving on their cell phones. By the end of last week, the Red Cross had raised more than $5 million from text messages, $10 at a time. But even if mobile devices are the newest method in charitable giving, are they the best? And how can you choose an aid organization thats going to do the most good with your money?
Joining us now in our studio to talk about that is Stacy Palmer. She is the editor of The Chronicle of Philanthropy. Welcome to the program, Stacy.
Ms. STACY PALMER (Editor, The Chronicle of Philanthropy): Good to be with you today.
NEARY: So, as I just mentioned, theres this new phenomenon of texting donations. A lot of organizations are asking people to send a text message and donate usually about $10 I think it is and then that ends up they end up billing the persons cell phone. So, how effective has this proved to be in this particular disaster in raising money?
Ms. PALMER: This is raising an enormous amount of money. Were now up to $22 million being raised through text messages and about $210 million being raised totally. So, its a big percentage for something that most people had never ever done before.
NEARY: And is it quicker then to get the money to the people who need it this way?
Ms. PALMER: Thats the tricky part. Its quick for you to do it and very easy for people and most people did it instantaneously. But it takes a little bit for the charity to actually get the money. One of the things the cell phone companies have done however is to expedite it because if they did it the traditional way, it would take 90 days to get the money there. And so, theyre speeding it up. Theyre waving their fees. Theyre doing everything very differently than the way text donations typically work. So, I think most of that money will get there pretty fast.
NEARY: But still faster than sending a check in the mail?
Ms. PALMER: Absolutely.
NEARY: Okay. You dont want to do that anymore?
Ms. PALMER: No, give online if possible.
NEARY: And have these text message campaigns drawn new donors, younger, more tech-friendly donors?
Ms. PALMER: Our expectation is that this is indeed drawing a lot of people who might not have ever have given before. You dont necessarily have to be watching the news and thinking about things. You might hear about something on Facebook, on Twitter, and quickly be able to give a cell phone donation. So, its probably reaching people who charities in the past never have been able to get to. We dont know exactly yet, but our expectation is that a lot more young people are giving this way. So thats pretty exciting to reach new donors.
NEARY: Now no matter how you choose to donate, there are a lot of choices to be made. I mean, if you go on any Web site now dealing with the earthquake, youll see a list of organizations that are asking for money. People worry that their money might be misused, might be blocked by red tape, in the case of Haiti, could be useless because the infrastructure isnt in place to spend the money properly. So, how do you choose a charity that would be effective in really helping people there?
Ms. PALMER: You know, a lot of challenges in deciding where to give, but wonderfully with the Internet, there are so many places where you can get information. One of the things I have enjoyed doing is reading what aid workers themselves, you know, who have been in lots of other disasters say that they ought to give to.
And one of the things that they say they look out first is has the charity actually been on the ground, doing work in Haiti? What kind of track record do they have? Do they have some kind of relationship with the local community, the local churches, all those kinds of things. So think hard about that.
It might not be a household name. It might not be a group youve ever heard of, but look at what theyve done. Most groups have pretty good Web sites at this point where you can find their accomplishments. Look at that question. Then look at the issues of how much do they spend no overhead. Those kinds of things that you would look whenever youre doing a charitable donation and there are plenty of Web sites to do that.
NEARY: I wonder too if something is going to go on this long if there are some that you might give to now because theyre on the ground right away. Theyve been there and some that you might give to later on as it goes on.
Ms. PALMER: Absolutely. This is going to be a huge crisis and its going to take many, many years to be able to help Haiti recover and the amount of money is unfathomable. So, if you have a limited budget, one of things you might want to think about is giving half your money now to these relief efforts and then saving some of the money for the recovery or working with other people to start trying to raise some money for those long recovery efforts. So, charities are going to keep coming back to the people who gave and theyre going to be asking for pretty enormous sums I imagine.
NEARY: In a moment, were going to be talking about some of the grim images that we have been seeing coming out of Haiti. To what degree do those images spur donations or do they even turn people off at times and whats the effect?
Ms. PALMER: One of the things that when people first see all that suffering they want to do something immediately and I think thats one reason we saw donations coming so quickly is that it was too heart wrenching not to do anything, so people are giving quickly. But if they see for too long that nothing is happening, that the charity seem to be ineffective, whether its their fault or not, it might be all the circumstances that are going on, this is a really hard situation for aid workers to work in.
I think people will give up and will get frustrated and say - whats going on with my donation. People have a lot of other things to worry about. Joblessness in this country is pretty high, a lot of people are struggling here and they might move away. So, I think its a tricky thing to see. I think the next couple of days are going to be really important to see signs of progress in the aid process. Otherwise, I think people will stop giving.
NEARY: Stacy Palmer is the editor of The Chronicle of Philanthropy. She joined us here in our studio. Thanks so much for being with us, Stacy.
Ms. PALMER: Thank you.
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