Giving Tuesday is a great opportunity to be thankful for all that we have, and to help those who are less fortunate. Here at USAID CIDI, we also think it is a good opportunity to reflect on how we give – today and throughout the year – and what gifts make the most impact.

Our mission at USAID CIDI is to encourage monetary donations to trusted relief organizations on this day and throughout the year to maximize our collective impact, particularly when donating in the wake of a natural or complex emergency. We know from experience that monetary donations to trusted relief organizations enable relief workers on the ground to provide more people with what they need, when they need it.

To share with our readers why we at USAID CIDI feel so passionately about giving monetary donations, we have compiled a series of blogs that share the personal reasons why we give cash. Below, you will find our first posting from our Director Juanita Rilling, who reminds us that BOGO is more than just a holiday shopping perk. Enjoy Juanita’s take below and stay tuned for perspectives from the rest of our team leading up to Giving Tuesday!

 I love a free gift with purchase. My home is a shrine to freebies, from a colorful collection of sample-sized cosmetics to bags of flavored coffee to BOGO pairs of shoes, I love getting extra goodies from a single buy.

This is also why I donate cash to relief organizations. In the hands of experienced, reputable relief organizations, monetary donations save thousands of lives and bring ancillary benefits too. Charitable organizations use cash donations to purchase needed supplies locally, which saves thousands of dollars in transportation costs, leaves no carbon footprint and supports local merchants, which speeds economic recovery. Local purchases also ensure that goods are fresh and familiar to survivors, culturally appropriate and, in the case of equipment, locally supportable. And funding that might have been spent on transportation of goods can be used to support more survivors. Even tiny cash donations combine to achieve these BOGO impacts, in addition to supporting disaster-affected people.

In contrast, material donations are one-dimensional. For example, Katherina Rosqueta, executive director of the Center for High Impact Philanthropy at the University of Pennsylvania, explains that food banks can get what they need for “pennies on the dollar.” She estimates that they pay about 10 cents a pound for food that would cost $2 per pound retail. Faced with the choice of feeding a family for $1 or donating a single can valued at $1 – wait – is this even a choice? I’ll give $5 or more because I want my donation to do as much good as possible. Helping more people is the best free gift.


In recent weeks, USAID has responded to the Ebola virus outbreak that continues to spread through Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone. As news about the outbreak and of heroic interventions by relief organizations continues to attract world attention, two questions rise to the top: how is the global community slowing the epidemic’s growth, and what are the best ways to help people who are impacted?

As the World Health Organization declared the outbreak an international public health emergency, partnerships around the world have mobilized education campaigns and relief efforts. USAID is providing resources for communities while supporting local efforts to address this type of threat. As a leading resource for information on international disasters, USAID CIDI is arming prospective donors with what they need to know to support the response, the survivors and communities affected by the Ebola virus in the speediest and most effective way possible.

While a first reaction may be to send medicine and other supplies to West Africa, the best way for thoughtful donors to express their compassion is by sending monetary donations to reputable organizations working on the ground in West Africa. Why cash? Cash donations can be used immediately to purchase supplies that are urgently needed and culturally appropriate, while supporting the local economy. We call this Smart Compassion, but you could also call it doing good for the greater good – and that’s pretty great!

For a list of trusted and experienced relief organizations helping in West Africa, visit: InterAction, Global Giving, or Relief Web. For all your disaster donations needs in one place, download the Smart Compassion Toolkit.

When we talk about international disasters, many of us think first of natural disasters like earthquakes, typhoons and wildfires. This makes perfect sense; in the last month alone, the world has experienced the devastating effects of disasters including the Yunnan Province earthquake in China, Super Typhoon Rasmassun in the Philippines and severe mudslides in Western India. However, as the current situation in Northern Iraq reminds us, complex humanitarian emergencies require relief from the international community just as natural disasters do. What aid efforts are underway in Northern Iraq and what can YOU do to help?

There are currently tens of thousands of internally displaced people in Northern Iraq following the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’s (ISIL) assault on Mount Sinjar and its surrounding areas. Since January alone, an estimated 1.4 million people have been evacuated from their homes due to violence. The more recent surge between August 3rd and 8th has caused as many as 200,000 to flee the affected areas. In response to this humanitarian need, USAID has deployed response experts to key locations and has provided airdrops of NGO-supplied food and water to communities trapped by ISIL.

Since we’d all like to help affected Iraqi families in these tragic circumstances, it’s important to remember that unsolicited material donations can clog supply chains and slow the speed of delivery of critical supplies. Instead, donors can more effectively channel their generosity by sending monetary donations to reputable organizations that are working in Iraq. Cash donations enable aid workers to immediately purchase relief items that are fresh and familiar to disaster-affected people, which can be a huge comfort to those who miss their homes. For this reason among many others, giving cash is a pillar of Smart Compassion.

If you’re looking to make a monetary donation to support relief in Northern Iraq, find a list of trusted and experienced organizations helping on-the-ground here: InterAction, Global Giving, orRelief Web. For all your disaster donations needs in one place, download the Smart Compassion Toolkit.




I love watching Alyssa Thomas play basketball. Not only because the University of Maryland three-time ACC Player of the Year is an uber-athletic, ridiculously talented, beautiful monster stat machine, but because she is also a giver. Watch her sometime; her focus is always on her teammates, the ball, the basket, and scoring. She applies her imagination and skill over every obstacle in a relentless pursuit of the win. And from her completeness and purity of effort ripples wave after wave of inspiration, to her teammates, the fans, the announcers, and those who witness.

Alyssa Thomas

Alyssa Thomas holding a ball with her teammates. Photo credit to Maryland Athletics.

All players give effort but not all give wisely. The ball-hogs, the floppers, the hackers— perhaps owing to impatience or inexperience— push winning a little farther away through sub-optimal use of their talent and time.  But Alyssa always seems to give her best; even under formidable demands, pressure and opposition, she gives wisely.

In the humanitarian arena, givers like Alyssa are needed and admired. Analogous to epic ball skills, charitable donors demonstrate focused, intelligent giving when “winning” involves helping people who are going through very tough times. On USAID CIDI’s home court of disaster relief, we cheer on donors who give essential aid through monetary contributions to relief and charitable organizations working directly with disaster-affected people. Cash donations play to the strengths of these organizations by optimizing their expertise and bulk purchasing power, which enable them to help more people quickly and for a longer time. Monetary donations are the alley-oop of charity.

As the college basketball season ends, Atlantic Hurricane Season approaches, and there may be occasions this year when others need an assist.  During the hard challenges, disaster-affected people are most effectively supported when donors team up with charitable organizations and follow-through with perfect form—just like Alyssa.


A true humanitarian film critic only posts the good stuff! Check out my favorite Video of the Week:

While not explicitly stated, cash donations go so much further than in-kind donations of canned food and allow food banks to purchase exactly what is needed, including perishables (fruits, vegetables, dairy, etc.) that are an important part of a healthy diet. A food bank can turn a $10 donation into as much as 100 pounds of food using their bulk purchasing power. The same $10 in the hands of an individual at a grocery store would purchase only about 5 pounds of food. For an idea of how far $10 can go in the DC area (USAID CIDI’s home base), the Capital Area Food Bank can provide 30 healthy meals to kids at risk of hunger for $10 through their Skip a Lunch Feed a Bunch summer campaign.


After the tornadoes that struck Oklahoma last month, Americans from all over donated what they could – principally money and unsolicited material donations. Where money gives the community flexibility to purchase exactly what is needed for relief and reconstruction, unsolicited material donations can pose obstacles to both.

It appears that the City of Moore, OK has asked that no more unsolicited material donations be delivered to Moore until they have a system in place to manage them: Unsolicited material donations are anything that the relief organizations in Moore did not specifically ask for. Apparently donations of used clothing, canned food, toys and other items are taking up space needed to stage and distribute more essential relief and rebuilding supplies.

The City is accepting monetary donations to four funds: the General Disaster Fund, the Animal Welfare Fund, the Safety Personnel Fund and the Moore Public Schools Foundation. There are buttons on the website that make it easy to contribute:

Big kudos to everyone who’s working in or with the relief organizations in Moore, and to those who are still laboring in areas affected by Hurricane Sandy.

The 2013 Atlantic Hurricane Season officially begins on June 1 and is expected to be very active. Preparing your family and home for hurricanes is important.  But what about preparing yourself to assist others–do you know how to effectively help those who are impacted by disasters? The best way to help is easier than you think and works 100% of the time.

The simplest disaster readiness activity is also the most cost-effective and the least time-consuming for donors–monetary donations to credible relief organizations working on-site. Each disaster is unique and affects people and infrastructure differently. Monetary donations enable relief workers to respond to evolving needs as those affected migrate to safety, resettle, and eventually rebuild their communities.

Unsolicited donations delivered to Samoa

Unsolicited donations delivered to Samoa after the 2009 earthquake and tsunami took up space needed by relief organizations to sort and deliver vital emergency supplies. Photo credit: Richard Muffley, USAID CIDI

Most people react to disaster events overseas by collecting clothing, canned food and bottled water for survivors. While well-intended, many of these items actually remain in the U.S. because of the high fees and cost required to transport the donated goods to a foreign country.  Others items are turned away at their destination because they are not tied to a response organization or are deemed inappropriate. For example, thirty-four countries have banned the importation of used clothing and may decline collections that arrive. In reality, needs of disaster-affected people are carefully assessed by relief professionals on-site, who provide the right goods in sufficient quantities at the right time.

USAID’s Center for International Disaster Information recently rolled out a Greatest Good Donations Calculator, created by the Colleges of Engineering and Business Administration at the University of Rhode Island.  This calculator illustrates the costs of sending unsolicited donations. For example, let’s say someone purchases a teddy bear for $19.99 in Washington, D.C., intending to send it to Apia, the capital city of Samoa.  According to the calculator, the total cost to send this bear (including transportation and other fees) would be a whopping $273.43! By contrast, the same amount of money could be used by a relief organization to purchase 54,686 liters of clean water locally, helping more than 27,300 people.

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.

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