Volunteer and Donate Responsibly Following Disaster

According to a May 2013 article in the New Yorker titled The Number 4.8, the frequency of billion-dollar disasters in America is growing at an annual rate of 4.8 percent. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) tracks the cost of domestic natural disasters, “the billion dollar weather club…reads like a Weather Channel hall of infamy…In 2011 and 2012 alone, twenty five weather disasters are estimated to cost over a billion dollars each. In the entirety of the nineteen eighties, there were twenty.”

Volunteer contributions and donations play a critical role in disaster rescue and recovery efforts. We have seen evidence of this most recently with the devastating Boulder flooding and autumn tornado outbreak in the Midwest. Internationally, we have seen the power of American volunteerism and philanthropy assisting those impacted by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.

It is important to volunteer and donate responsibly. The donation of unneeded items or the mobilization of spontaneous volunteers (i.e. those who are not affiliated with a volunteer response agency and/or untrained) can redirect valuable, and sometimes scarce resources, away the primary recovery and response missions.

Here are some tips from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) on how to volunteer and donate responsibly:

Cash is the most efficient method of donating

Cash offers voluntary organizations the most flexibility in obtaining the most needed resources and pumps money into the local economy to help businesses recover. Cash donations:

  • Allow voluntary organizations to fund response and recovery efforts, obtain goods and services locally, and provide direct financial assistance to survivors to meet their own needs.
  • Allow the individual to choose the organization to which they would like to make a financial contribution. At the national level, many voluntary faith- and community-based organizations are active in disasters, and are trusted ways to donate to disaster survivors. If you need help in determining who to give to, National Voluntary Organization Active in Disaster (VOAD) website has a list of major non-profits that are active in disaster work or you can make your offer through the National Donations Management Network.

Remember, unsolicited goods such as used clothing, miscellaneous household items, and mixed perishable food require helping agencies to redirect valuable resources away from providing services to sort, package, transport, warehouse, and distribute items that may not meet the needs of disaster survivors.

For more information on donating responsibly, check out a January 2013 article titled Thanks, But No Thanks: When Post- Disaster Donations Overwhelm by National Public Radio by clicking here.

Affiliate with existing non-profit organizations before coming to the disaster area

Immediately following a disaster, a community can become easily overwhelmed by the amount of generous people who want to help. Contacting and affiliating with an established organization will help to ensure that you are appropriately trained to respond in the most effective way.

Be safe

Do not self deploy until a need has been identified and the local community impacted has requested support. Wait until it is safe to travel to volunteer sites and opportunities have been identified. Once assigned a position by an established, trusted organization, make sure you have been given an assignment and are wearing proper safety gear for the task.

Be patient

Recovery lasts a lot longer than the media attention. There will be volunteer needs for many months, often years, after the disaster, especially when the community enters the long-term recovery period.

For more information on volunteering and donating responsibly from FEMA, click here.

Be Prepared

One of the best ways that you can help aid first responders and relief organizations after a disaster in your community is to be prepared before a disaster strikes.  Many times, this will allow first responders to focus their efforts on containing the disaster and/or assisting the most vulnerable.  Find out how you can prepare yourself, your family, and your neighborhood before a disaster by visiting ready.mt.gov.

Line Break