Happy International Mother Earth Day! No longer a day that evokes images traditional hippies at the first celebration in 1970, it is now a globally coordinated day celebrating support for environmental protection in more than 192 countries. This has meant wide scale efforts to curb deforestation in Brazil, address desertification in China, and build global responsibility around CO2 emissions.

. These charitable and humanitarian instincts among Earth Day activists are not unlike what we at CIDI find in those wishing to alleviate suffering in the wake of natural disasters. We are inundated with calls, email, and other inquiries about how concerned Americans can help disaster-affected people. Many times, compassionate people turn to their own pantries and closets, packing clothes and household items with a heart full of hope that a disaster survivor will happily open the box on the other end. While well-intended, collections that are not coordinated with a relief organization only infrequently reach beneficiaries. Many remain in the US because transportation costs and other fees are prohibitively expensive. Others are turned away at their destination because they are not tied to a response organization or are culturally inappropriate. We at CIDI work to turn donor good intentions into Smart Compassion.

Part of Smart Compassion is understanding that monetary donations to credible relief organizations are the most effective and efficient way to help disaster survivors. Each disaster is unique and affects people and infrastructure uniquely. Monetary donations enable relief workers to respond to people’s evolving needs as they migrate to safety, resettle, and eventually rebuild their communities.

Our Greatest Good Donations Calculator, created by the Colleges of Engineering and Business Administration at the University of Rhode Island, illustrates the costs to donors of sending unsolicited donations: A donor purchases a teddy bear for $19.99 in Washington, D.C., intending to send it to Western Samoa. Transportation costs and other fees will total $273.43 to send a teddy bear! The same amount of money could be used by a relief organization to purchase 54,686 liters of clean water locally, giving 27,343 people 2 liters of clean drinking water each.

Incidentally, Smart Compassion also supports environmental protection. The above estimate only takes into account the cost in money; it considers neither the CO2 emissions from transportation overseas nor the electricity used to stabilize the temperature in storage. It also does not address environment impacts that unsolicited donations can have on communities: boxes of inappropriate donations including food or medicine delivered past their expiration dates often have to be disposed of through bulldozing or burning, both negatively impacting the environment. The sheer bulk of clothing donations are so burdensome, costly to manage, and harmful to the environment in recipient countries that over 34 countries have banned by law the importation of used clothing.

Smart Compassion involves being aware of the unintended consequences of giving, and choosing to make a donation that has a positive impact on disaster survivors and their communities, whether economically or environmentally. Monetary contributions to established relief agencies in affected areas purchase exactly what survivors need when they need it. They support local merchants and local economies, and ensure that beneficiaries receive supplies that are fresh, familiar, and culturally, nutritionally and environmentally appropriate. More benefits to more people at lower cost and while protecting Mother Earth – done!

For more information on effective donations, visit USAID’s Center for International Disaster Information.

The end of Ramadan means a celebrate for all those who do and do not celebrate. Our CIDI team is enjoying samosas made by our Outreach and Volunteer Coordinator, Barlin Ali. Samosas are savory pastries filled with meat, potatoes, or chicken that can be found in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. You can find Barlin’s recipe in her cookbook: Somali Cuisine.

Wishing everyone peace, love, and samosas-

CIDI Family

Eid Muborak


We at USAID CIDI can’t decide if the summer heat is causing us to see mirages or if we are living in a dream. Beginning back in 2009, we admired and followed the Good Intentions are Not Enough blog. But like a mirage, the blog disappeared in 2012, much to our chagrin.


The Good Intents blog enjoyed a cult following since its creation in 2009 as it engaged in frank dialogue about international humanitarian programs, including the impact of donations on relief and development projects. A stated goal was to provide information to donors so that their contributions “match their good intentions.”  The blog featured input from experienced humanitarian practitioners who describe the unintended impacts that unsolicited material donations can have on disaster relief and related programs.


The blog was the brainchild of Saundra Schimmelpfennig, a veteran of more than 20 years in local and international aid and development. Ms. Schimmelpfennig was the founding director of The Charity Rater, the founding director of the Disaster Tracking Recovery Assistance Center, and a contributor for The Chronicle of Philanthropy. After three years of compelling dialogue, the blog closed in December of 2012.

The dreamy part? We are thrilled to announce that USAID CIDI will post selections from the blog here, keeping intact the archived posts and comments that focus on donations. We will release the blogs in chronological order, starting with Saudra’s first two dozen offerings on Tuesday, July 29th.  After each initial posting, the content will be added to a permanent library on our website.

In starting her website and the blog, Saundra stated, “Good intentions are not enough for aid to be successful. If aid is done poorly it can hurt the very people it is supposed to help.” Accurate information and sound practices are also crucial to smart aid.

USAID CIDI’s mission is to provide donors with information that facilitates their desire to help disaster-affected people. Our aim in posting Good Intents’ donations-centric blog content is to offer more useful information about the impacts of donations from experienced humanitarian experts.  Readers are advised that views expressed on Good Intents may not necessarily reflect the views of USAID CIDI. Also, reference in Good Intents content to any specific commercial products, process, service, manufacturer, or company does not constitute its endorsement or recommendation by USAID CIDI.


The Good Intents blog closed in December of 2012 but many of the observations remain timely and have been true in recent emergency responses. We believe that this resource continues to be valuable for prospective donors and for students of humanitarian relief.  Tune in Tuesday, July 29th at 3:30 PM EST for the first two dozen posts, including:

  • Beggars can’t be choosers, but are they really beggars?
  • Mosquito nets, condoms, and recycling
  • Good intentions are not enough
  • If aid were like McDonald’s

If this is a dream, we hope we don’t wake up before next Tuesday!

Three years ago, the Japanese region of Tohoku was struck by a 9.0 magnitude earthquake, followed quickly by a 130 foot high tsunami. These horrifying events had tremendous short and long-term consequences. Most disastrous was the loss of life and the widespread, catastrophic damage to infrastructure. Damaged infrastructure at the Fukushima Daichi Nuclear Power Plant added a layer of concern, but thankfully, a nuclear disaster was avoided as 300,000 people were evacuated to safety.

Japan’s emergency response system is one of the best in the world, but any country would be hard pressed to return to normalcy after an event that left 21,000 people dead, injured, or missing and their communities destroyed. On this 3rd anniversary of the Tohoku Tsunami, many survivors are moving forward with their lives because of their own hard work and the support of NGOs in their communities. The time it will take for a full return can be magically reduced through the generosity of donors to the NGOs who continue their tireless work in Japan. Those who feel inspired to help can check out the multi-sectoral work of InterAction members, www.interaction.org and programs supported by Global Giving www.globalgiving.org. It may take years to restore communities and infrastructure, but the generosity of those who donate cash to these programs ensures that recovery will come sooner rather than later.



Growing up in the Soviet Union where we celebrate this day with parades, gifts, and flowers, I am often baffled why my adopted homeland in the US does not celebrate or even acknowledge this storied day. It’s ironic because the history of the struggle and triumph that this day represents in the US started in 1908 with marches in New York City over voting rights and better pay for women. Though women in the US now have the right to vote, the issue of unequal pay and other disparities seem strangely not addressed in US culture.


On a global scale, women face many weighty challenges but are also recognized as the key to pulling themselves, their families, and their communities out of poverty. According to UKaid, women do 66% of the world’s work but only earn 10% of the world’s income. Even with this discrepancy, when a woman generates her own income, she invests 90% of it in her family and community.

This to me highlights the importance of wildly celebrating International Women’s Day: it is about women but it’s also about the communities that they support and strengthen. These communities need to reciprocate by supporting their daughters, sisters, and mothers. As the world grows smaller through globalization and international media, we are constantly aware of the gender based, structural, cultural and sexual violence that burdens women and girls all over the world, every day. Men and women of all ages and ideologies need to stand together to address these inequalities. As Gloria Steinem explains: “The story of women’s struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist nor to any one organization but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights.”

Take some time today to read up about International Women’s Day. Better yet, call your mom, aunt, sister, or girlfriend and wish them a Happy International Women’s Day.




My friends who observe Lent are already talking about what they’re going to give up for this annual 40- day season. They plan to surrender things like chocolate, coffee, shopping and other pleasures and substitute prayer or reflection. Whether or not one is Lent-observant, the notion of thoughtfully giving up something to achieve a greater good is at the heart of effective charity.

When we talk with people about disaster donations, we usually start with how unsolicited material donations can hamper relief efforts on the ground, so that people will better understand the most effective ways to help. But around major holidays, we are reminded that smart compassion—or giving wisely— is also about thoughtfully and intentionally doing our best to improve the lives of people who suffer.

We’ve all heard that “it is more blessed to give than to receive,” a biblical quote  that is a staple of charitable thinking. This is ancient text, but much has been written more recently about the physiological and psychological benefits connected to the act of giving—coming soon in another blog! Giving feels great for givers, but in order to be great for those who receive, a gift has to be targeted to actual need. This is where thoughtful givers succeed—in focusing not on how good it feels to give, or on the gift itself, but on the person who will receive the gift.

At the heart of smart compassion is a deliberate focus on recipients. It is also the core of one of our favorite tag lines—“connect before you collect”— encouraging a link between giver and recipient and between the giver’s mind and heart. The conviction and urgency we feel to help others is a beautiful expression of heart that takes us halfway. The rest of the journey is a mindful focus on people’s needs; not what we think they need but what they actually need. Whether during Lent or year-round, getting this right connects us to those we wish to help in the best way, and achieves that higher good.