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In-Kind Can Be Unkind

In-kind donations are commodities or services given by a donor instead of a monetary contribution.  True in-kind donations are given within an established relationship between a donor and a charitable organization, though individual donors have used the term more liberally.  Either way, it’s important for donors to know that in-kind donations can be useful in the right circumstances but very harmful in others.  That distinction gave rise to the descriptive tagline – In-Kind Can Be Unkind.

For survivors, relief workers, local merchants and host-country personnel, unsolicited material donations of household items frequently end up being un-kind.  Many of the unsolicited materials collected by well-intentioned donors may not actually reach the disaster-affected area. Depending on the recipient country’s customs policies, unsolicited material donations may languish in a local customs office indefinitely, which may result in a sizable bill for storage to relief organizations that attempt to retrieve them.

Unsolicited materials that do reach disaster sites can disrupt relief operations by taking up space needed to stage and distribute life-saving supplies. These donations may be culturally, nutritionally and environmentally inappropriate for survivors, and managing them can divert relief workers’ time and attention.

Similarly, donors who wish to volunteer their time to disaster relief efforts can be helpful when they partner with a relief organization working on site and have a skill set that is needed on the ground.  Conversely, offers from individuals who have not worked in overseas disaster relief or who are otherwise unskilled, while well-intentioned, are typically not accepted by relief organizations. Local volunteers and even disaster survivors themselves are usually available for these tasks, and people impacted by a disaster benefit from being actively involved in the restoration of their communities.

So when are in-kind donations truly in-kind (e.g. actually useful to disaster relief operations)?  When they meet the following criteria:

  • Items are specifically requested by a charitable or local organization working on-site, and
  • Are available in sufficient quantity to serve affected populations
  • Are easily integrated into existing relief and development programs
  • Are monitored for effectiveness.
  • The donor has covered transportation costs and the recipient organization has a distribution plan

Collections of canned food, bottled water, used clothing, toys, books, shoes and other household items are sometimes incorrectly referred to as “in-kind donations”, but only supplies that meet all of the above criteria are truly in-kind.

It can be very challenging for individual donors to meet the criteria listed above. In stark contrast, cash donations are the simplest for donors, more efficient for relief organizations and more effective for disaster-affected people. They can be used immediately by relief organizations to purchase exactly what survivors need, when they need it. The kindest donations satisfy survivors’ most urgent needs – monetary donations do this simply and efficiently for everyone.

More resources for informed giving

  • CIDI Toolkit

    USAID CIDI
    Toolkit

    Demonstrating Smart Compassion: What You Can Do

    You can help to save lives and reduce human suffering after disasters by providing proven guidance within your community, schools, parishes, sororities and fraternities. Sound good? It is enormously good.

    Visit the toolkit to get started »

  • Donating to Disaster Relief Toolkit

    Help Where It's
    Needed Most Toolkit

    This toolkit was developed by the AdCouncil to help organizations effectively communcate the benefits of monetary doantions in support of disaster relief efforts.

    View the Disaster Relief Toolkit »

  • greatest good donation calculator

    Greatest Good
    Donation Calculator

    How much do you think it costs to send bottled water to Kinshasa? Find out »

 
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