Hurricane wreckage

June 1 marks the start of Atlantic Hurricane Season – and as we know, it only takes one storm to cause significant damage to communities in the United States and around the world.

When disaster hits, many generous people start looking for ways they can help.

If you are one of them, you should use the start of Hurricane season to pre-plan your generosity too! It can make a big difference for people trying to get back on their feet after disaster.

How can you make the greatest impact in the lives of others this hurricane season? The answer is surprisingly simple: give cash to relief organizations that work directly with people affected by disasters.

Disasters evolve quickly as people move to safety and start receiving emergency services and humanitarian aid. Cash donations allow relief organizations to respond to changing needs quickly, which enables them to deliver essential supplies that are fresh and familiar to the people they are helping. Donating clothes and household items might seem like the right thing to do, but these items rarely reach the people they’re intended to help. In fact, unsolicited donations can hinder relief efforts by diverting relief workers’ attention, clogging up already-limited work space and requiring equipment and time to manage. In stark contrast, even small financial donations can make a huge difference because of charitable organizations’ bulk purchasing power. For example, relief organizations can provide safe drinking water to more than 32,000 people for one day for the same cost of shipping one 6-pack of bottled water to a disaster site.

Atlantic hurricane season lasts from June 1 - Nov. 30
Atlantic hurricane season lasts from June 1 – Nov. 30.

As we mark the start of Atlantic Hurricane Season, keep in mind these three ways you can help people in need:

  1. Decide ahead of time where your money will go. Choose a charity doing work you feel strongly about in hurricane-affected areas. You can make sure your donation is used effectively by consulting charity watchdogs such as Charity Navigator or Give Well.
  2. If you’ve already collected material goods, repurpose them! Your garage may be full, but fret not. Here are 55 ways to repurpose a material donation, or you can donate locally to people in need.
  3. Help spread the word about hurricane season, and cash donations. Many people aren’t aware of the positive impacts associated with giving cash to relief organizations after a disaster – or about the hazards of sending unsolicited material donations. Help us spread the word by directing people to, following us on – Twitter and liking us on Facebook. You can also share the wonderful “Cash is Best” ads from our 2019 PSAid student contest! Visit to see the winning entries.

If you’re still unsure about giving cash, check out our Greatest Good Donation Calculator to determine the cost of material donations like canned food, bottled water and clothes versus the good that the same amount of money can do in the hands of an experienced relief organization.

Save lives, save money – donate cash!

Written By: Joe Costanzo
Director UK Institute for Migration Research (UK-IMR),

Anyone today with access to modern media has heard a podcast, watched a news story or read an article/blog about migration—even those without access to media have almost certainly heard or shared a personal, migration story.

December 18th, is International Migrants Day when we recognize “the large and increasing number of migrants in the world”. (United Nations @

Rarely a day goes by when stories of migration do not affect our lives. For some, migration is a first-person experience—our own stories of leaving, of change, of struggle, of searching for something better for us, for our families. For many, migration is part of our families’ stories. For some, migration is something we worry about, how it appears to be changing our villages, our cities and our nations. Migration is all of these things and more.

Who is a migrant? What about refugees, are they migrants too?

These may seem like basic questions but they cause confusion and frustration for many, including students and teachers, statisticians, legal scholars and policy makers trying to make sense of the complex world around us. The public conversation about migration has been nearly constant this year when we have witnessed unprecedented levels of human displacement across the globe.

Journalists, politicians and researchers have been responding daily to a rapidly changing landscape where all forms of migration continue to reach historically higher levels; where public support for humanitarian migration has abruptly shifted towards security concerns; and where long-standing (and assumed stable) policy and philosophical frameworks are in crisis—the European Union’s policy framework on asylum (called the Dublin Regulation) and the principle of free movement within European borders (the Schengen Area) are now being challenged. Here, in the UK, local authorities are responding, attempting to develop strategic plans on how to manage the certainty that change is coming but the uncertainty of what’s to come. This includes the formal resettlement of Syrians and steady claims for asylum from nationals of many other countries, as well as the continued growth in intra-EU migration towards the UK.

International agreements, like the 1951 Refugee Convention – which defines a refugee – and international organizations, like the United Nations, provide legal frameworks and guidance on how to describe and count the many different sorts of people (migrants, refugees, students etc.) who may cross national borders by choice or by force to travel, live, work or settle outside their home countries. The term “migrant” has no universally-accepted definition around the world, but the UN suggests that, in the international context, it refer to “any person who changes his or her country of usual residence” regardless of their motivation or legal circumstance.

Where can I find good, reliable information or learn more about migration?

The ‘simple’ answer could be in three easy steps: In places you likely already know, a few you may not and a few classics!

First, locate the basic terms and numbers: For definitions and other migration-related lingo, check out our migration institute’s new glossary of terms. Even though it might seem daunting at first, for numbers check out the experts at the national statistics offices in your country (like the Census Bureau in the United States, or the Office for National Statistics in the UK). These are excellent first points of contact for getting the big picture.

Second, think critically about what you read on migration. Ask yourself (and, why not the person or organization putting out the information?) where the numbers come from and whether sources you trust use those same numbers.

Third, google it (responsibly). I just googled “migration” from here in the UK. It gave me 170 million responses. I might be a migration researcher but I don’t have the time (or the money) to read all those results! Be more specific, googling “migration research” or “migration statistics” reduces the number of hits by millions. Even more important, the top results are recognizable names and organizations—universities, think tanks and government agencies working specifically on these issues. Adding even more specific terms you’re interested in, like your city, or themes like “jobs”, “impacts” or “asylum” will help again. If you find yourself caught on an academic website—fear not! Sources like and translate academic research into compelling, accessible and timely data and analysis that can be readily used and understood. Too, targeted google searches have the added value of introducing you to new, emerging sources of information.

The importance of an informed discussion on migration could not be more critical given the historic levels of all forms of migration underway worldwide including, and most visibly, the forced (or humanitarian-led) migration of refugees. And, through the determined efforts of many actors in and outside of academia, a hard-fought and important place has been created for evidence-led debate on migration.

For many reasons, the debate over migration will continue to grab headlines. Hopefully this short blog post gives some easy to remember and easy to use tools so you can question (and provide your own answers to) the migration conversation.

Currently the Director of the UK Institute for Migration Research, Dr Costanzo got his start in the migration field in the early 1990s as an intern in the Consular Section of the US Embassy in Paris (State) before working for many years on migration statistics and migration policy for the US Commission on Immigration Reform, US Census Bureau (Commerce) and US Citizenship & Immigration Services (Homeland Security). Joe and the UK Institute for Migration Research are based in Kent, England.




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.


“The process of assessing how you feel about the things you own, identifying those that have fulfilled their purpose, expressing your gratitude, and bidding them farewell, is really about examining your inner self, a rite of passage to a new life.”
– The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

Recent trends highlight the satisfaction of decluttering one’s life; to let go of sentimental attachments to things, and to live more fully with less ‘stuff’. Marie Kondo’s book was a New York Times Best-Seller and flew off the shelves this past summer. Why? A fervent rush to ‘tidy-up’? Not quite. People are recognizing the freedom and joy that comes with owning less. The main take-away from “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” is to only surround oneself with what brings joy.

But then, what do we do with all of our discarded stuff?

It is satisfying to give someone something they need. I recently went through my closest to give away items I did not need nor use. All it took was a quick call to my local women’s shelter to determine if they had need for my used clothes and jewelry. Subsequently, I drove my donated goods over to the shelter and knew exactly to whom I was giving my in-kind donations. Not only was I paring down but also giving to a good cause.

If I had not called my local women’s shelter and determined their need, I most likely would have dumped my donations in one of those metal boxes in the grocery store parking lot. I would not have known if my things were needed, nor have seen who it was that my donations were going to, or whether all of it was sold as scrap cloth. Too many mysteries and not enough empowerment – I’d rather give locally!

This holiday season, as we seek to help those in need and share the wealth we have been given—let’s consider needs in our own communities. Blankets, winter clothes and food for local shelters that house the homeless in these cold winter months. At the end of the day, we want to give, but its best and most satisfying to donate locally when giving away goods.



“The reason I chose to give cash over in-kind donations is because cash is the one gift that can become many. Like a seed, when money is planted it blossoms into more than the eye could ever imagine.”


For as long as I can recall, I’ve been a selfless person. Giving has always been one of my favorite things to do. I believe the reason I enjoy giving so much is because I enjoy seeing others’ smile. I feel rewarded when I can encourage or facilitate happiness in someone else’s life. Happiness is contagious and in order for me to be truly happy, I need the people in my world to be happy. I also have a team-oriented mentality. I believe that no one can get far without help and guidance from someone other than themselves. If each individual brings his or her strengths to the table then we all benefit; we all win whatever challenge we face in that moment. Each and every person has strengths, and when he or she shares that strength, it is a gift to the world. A gift to me is like a seed; once planted in soil, it blossoms into a beautiful plant or flower that helps give life to many things around us.

There was a time in my life when I was homeless. I worked about 40-55 hours a week but, with the amount of bills I had, it always seemed like I couldn’t catch up. At one point my bank account had a max of $12.16; no food, no home to call my own, and the distance between that day and the next pay day would depress most people. In my mind, my bank account was low but my spirit remained at an all-time high; I could just feel abundance surrounding me.

My cell phone then turned off and the only way I could communicate was through emailing whenever I got to Wi-Fi. I emailed one of my good friends and explained my situation and I asked for help. I told her my phone was off and this was my only way of communicating with the world for now. Without hesitation, she transferred $100 to my account. She could’ve easily said “let me call the phone company and pay with my card”, but instead she transferred money to me without even asking how much I needed. My cell phone bill was $75 and after I paid it, I had a surplus of $25. That $25 on top of the $12.16 that I already had helped me get food for the week for myself and the friend that let me sleep on the couch at that time.

My friend didn’t know exactly what I needed, but she knew I was in need. Because she was in the place to help, she was able to give me money to help myself and, in return, I helped others.

Since those days, my life is significantly better. I continued to work hard, pay my bills, take care of my friends that helped me and I was rewarded with a promotion. From that promotion came a home with my name on the lease. And eventually, after that home came a new career. Because I continue to live this abundant life, I give to those that are less fortunate and in need. I give to my friends, I donate money to charity and churches, and I give money to the homeless when I can. I’ve always loved giving and now that I am in a position to give, I give cash.

There is nothing that can compare to the face of a person you just gave money to when they ask for it or when they least expect it. Most people have concerns about where their money goes and if it goes to the right place, but those are never concerns of mine because when I know there is a need, money can do more than it can’t. The reason I chose to give cash over in-kind donations is because cash is the one gift that can become many. Like a seed, when money is planted it blossoms into more than the eye could ever imagine.

Paris Jackson, Information Management Specialist for The Center for International Disaster Information


“If everyone donates cash, the effect is cumulative and more tangible as such aggregate impact would improve the lives of not only the recipients but would also boost the local economy.”

I donate cash because I know that cash can be used for many needs. As the recipients know their needs better than I do, donating cash avoids my second-guessing of their critical needs. For example, instead of sending clothing to some needy families in Somalia, I donate cash so they can determine how to best use that cash. The critical decision of whether to have a change of clothing or necessary medication for a sick a child can be made on the ground by the recipients. This has made a world of difference to those receiving my cash donations.

On the larger scale, if everyone donates cash, the effect is cumulative and more tangible as such aggregate impact would improve the lives of not only the recipients but would also boost the local economy. Therefore, I look at the bigger picture when donating and, as a result, I donate cash. Simply put, cash is the best.

Barlin's photo

Barlin Ali, Program Coordinator for Center for International Disaster Information


“What is altruism without effort?”

As a researcher at USAID CIDI, I have spent a great deal of my time conducting research on humanitarian supply chain logistics.  As a result, I now know that the effectiveness of the humanitarian supply chain is critical to the success of disaster relief efforts. We as donors can help logisticians working for professional humanitarian organizations more effectively plan disaster relief operations and better serve survivors by making more effective donations.

When we contribute unsolicited material donations, these can create “logistical bottlenecks” in the humanitarian supply chain that can slow down the provision of aid to those in need.  For this reason, I donate cash to professional humanitarian organizations responding to international disasters because I want to provide them with the opportunity to respond as quickly and efficiently as possible.

While it’s not always easy find NGOs that are trustworthy, actively involved in a relief effort, or participating in a way that we as donors want to contribute to, the internet is making it easier for us as donors to do our homework and identify professional humanitarian organizations that we want to support. Websites like GuideStar or Charity Navigator allow us to read reviews from other donors that share their experiences with donating to a particular NGO and offer donors the ability to measure an NGOs legitimacy by evaluating their financial statements, tax returns, and more.  This process does require some time, but what is altruism without effort?

As donors, we rarely consider what happens to our donations after we make them. When I think about what would need to happen for an item to leave my hands and enter the hands of an international disaster survivor, it becomes clear that an incredibly complicated and expensive journey must ensue. How much would it cost to send a pair of jeans from Los Angeles, California to Kabul, Afghanistan?  The answer is roughly $202.05 if you bought the jeans at WalMart and sent them to Afghanistan through FedEx.  Though this isn’t the primary method donors choose to send donations, the process for NGOs that receive unsolicited in-kind contributions is much the same and equally costly.

Monetary contributions, by contrast, provide NGOs with much greater flexibility in the way they can carry out disaster relief operations.  NGOs can exercise bulk purchasing power in countries where the cost of goods in general is considerably less than the cost of the same goods in the United States.  With monetary contributions, NGOs can more easily respond to changing needs on the ground, which is a common occurrence in the wake of severe natural disasters.

I donate cash to international disaster relief efforts for all these reason and simply because monetary donations allow efficient humanitarian supply chains that provide goods and services to disaster-affected people faster.

Eric Chavez (second from left) Senior Research Analyst for The Center for International Disaster Information

Eric Chavez (second from left) Senior Research Analyst for The Center for International Disaster Information

“Just because you didn’t receive a tax write off, recognition from a local organization, or a thank you card doesn’t mean your efforts were unnoticed.”

So if you haven’t heard, #GivingTuesday is all the rage around the holidays! Recognized globally on December 2nd, this day is dedicated to bringing communities, families, organizations, causes and students together for one common goal: to give.

There are so many ways to give back;  whether it’s done anonymously or intentionally, the warm feeling you’re rewarded with is indescribable. The holidays are a time where you are around people you care about the most and every memory is special and imbeds itself into your psyche. That’s what makes it the best time to start traditions; giving a reoccurring role for all to take on and share with their other communities and families.

Whether you choose to give your time, talent, or money, giving back can be done in any fashion. This day fits perfectly between Thanksgiving and Christmas time. So with one day encouraging you to give thanks, another infecting you with cheeriness and acts of generosity, and the one in between actively encouraging you to give, why not donate the best way possible?

Giving money assures that you’ve done your part, and the recipient, who knows the situation best, has comfort in knowing a need is about to be met. I think that is the most important position to view donating from: the position of the recipient. Maybe the need is food and not clothing? How much? What do people need or want to eat? These questions will circulate through the head of the giver who practices #smartcompassion, a giver who channels the desire to give back in the most effective way.

We’re no strangers to donating and giving back. Just because you didn’t receive a tax write off, recognition from a local organization, or a thank you card doesn’t mean your efforts went unnoticed. I think giving money to a friend or family member and not expecting it in return is considered donating. To me, the act of giving itself is what is appreciated by the donor, the recipient, and everyone else.

If you stop and think about it, money travels faster than goods. Cash can meet any need and fill any gap in most circumstances. I think when giving cash, it feels just as good learning that I was responsible for helping build the infrastructure of the organization that feeds children after school as it would feel being responsible for the food they are eating.

With hash tags like #unselfie and #GivingTuesday, this holiday is an excellent way to help push social impact while also giving millennials a chance to be a part of something emerging before our eyes on the platforms we know and love! Great job New York’s 92nd Street Y.

Lauren Chatman, Online Communications Specialist for The Center for Disaster Information.

Lauren Chatman, Online Communications Specialist for The Center for Disaster Information.

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.


“You wouldn’t want to receive something you didn’t ask for or need at Christmas, let alone during a humanitarian crisis.”

It is Christmas eve and presents are lined beneath my family’s tree. Do you remember that present from a distant relative last year that you opened, cringed and never used? For me it was Barbie dolls when I was sixteen. I appreciate the thought that my relatives put into gifts but sometimes I receive ones I know I will never use. It led me to ask for cash.

Now raise the stakes exponentially. I’m not talking about holiday gift giving but donations given during times of crisis.

In Ebola-stricken areas, healthcare workers may give more than a cringe upon receiving in-kind donations of canned food or used clothing when they are not needed or when those needs have been met. You wouldn’t want to receive something you didn’t ask for or need at Christmas, let alone during a humanitarian crisis. Just as I would hate to give a gift I know would be discarded, I would never want to donate goods that would impede a relief effort. Instead, I donate cash.

It’s difficult to anticipate the needs of a relative; it’s even more difficult anticipating the needs of those in a humanitarian crisis. Cash is best.



This year’s Christmas tree! (an image from Margot Morris, Program Assistant for The Center for International Disaster Information)



CIDI’s Barlin Ali and OFDA Asa Piyaka speak to Ahmed Scego, one of the founders of Global Somali Diaspora

People like to say that this is the Age of Connectedness. Yes, we are more connected. But we’ve always been connected—now it is on a much more intimate and expansive level. Humanity has always sought connectedness. We’ve been exchanging ideas for thousands of years; initially through conquest and trade, now exchange occurs through expedient international travel and the Internet. Diaspora groups are a manifestation of this continued connectedness as community boundaries have reshaped and expanded in our modern era.

At USAID Center for International Disaster Information, we hosted the first organized event in our history. On November 13th, “Diaspora, Disaster, and Donations” welcomed a brilliant set of panelists, each engaging diaspora communities in different ways, with robust discussion about diaspora communities’ roles following disaster events. Each panelist touched upon the importance of the connectedness of our world and how diaspora groups are an active expression of this.

USAID Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance’s Asa Piyaka expounded upon the shifting role diaspora communities are playing in disaster relief. Diasporas play such a crucial role during disaster, he explained, because these communities already have ties to the affected region and are typically more tuned-in to what is needed than international relief organizations may be. USAID CIDI’s own Barlin Ali conveyed that diasporas and charities wish to send remittances and donated cash to disaster-affected areas. However, in addition to the power of cash during emergencies, it is crucial to provide education about responsible giving in order to maximize its efficacy and impact.

During a disaster, remittances sent to countries of origin by diaspora communities are often the only stable source of income, stated Safiya Khalid of the Institute of Immigration Research at George Mason. For example, in the 2004 tsunami, Sri Lanka received government and NGO money to provide fishermen with boats; nonetheless, it was remittances that provided the nets with which to fish. Remittances aren’t without associated challenges, including misdirected money. Katherine Gupta of the US Treasury Department outlined avenues in which remittances can be given safely and transparently.

Diaspora groups send remittances and concerned citizens donate to communities stricken by crises because each are affected by the global reverberations during their aftermaths. Professor Terrence Lyons of George Mason University mentioned that “communities are not bounded by territory, they are transnational.” That to be a part of a diaspora community is to be both “simultaneously a Virginian and a Liberian. Those links of affinity, that you have an obligation to this community . . . that is what drives so much of the politics and the donations, and the remittances.”

Our global community is transformed by the immediate communicative and physical connection we all now have. When disaster strikes, it is no longer an isolated incidence as it may have been a hundred years ago; rather, it now impacts the world on a global and a regional level. Diaspora groups are a realization of the expansion of distinctive regional communities. These communities, especially diaspora, are poised better than ever to respond to disaster and reshape our global recovery efforts.

USAID CIDI Staff at "Diaspora, Disaster, and Donations"

USAID CIDI Staff at “Diaspora, Disaster, and Donations”

We’ve all heard of, or even volunteered for, popular non-profit organizations like United Way, Salvation Army, Goodwill, American National Red Cross, and YMCA to name a few. Non-profit organizations rally around a common principle, using profits to invest back in projects that address the organization’s interests. The ones we are most familiar with have a charity or a public service component. They welcome and enable people to contribute their time, skills, efforts, and money for a greater good. Organizations that do this play an integral role in the general welfare and economic and social interests of our communities – solving problems and enriching the community. Non-profits can work domestically or internationally on a range of issues, from addressing immediate hardships for people to preserving macro and micro aspects of cultures.

Do you have an interest in working for the greater good? Human rights, gender equity, environmentally sound development, assisting refugees – I bet there is an organization that exists to address what you care about! Are you interested in giving to or volunteering for a non-profit but you’re not sure what charities are nearby and who needs help? As part of my focus on the Back-to-School season, I’ve compiled a list of non-profit organizations, both domestic and international, that address some of the issues related to going back to school like access to food, books, and a well-rounded education. Thanks to websites like Global Giving and InterAction, we have the resources to explore and support trusted organizations that serve nearly every country and every cause in the world.

Here are some organizations and projects that I have learned about that might interest you:

Help 95 DC Kids Extend Learning After School: New Community for Children plans to serve students from Kindergarten through 12th grade and support them in reaching their full academic potential, preparing for college, and giving back time and talent to their communities.

Increase Graduation Rates In Little Rock: City Year, of Little Rock, Arkansas, is dedicated to improving educational outcomes for low-income youth. City Year’s Long-Term Impact goal is to ensure 80% of the students in the schools they serve reach the 10th grade.

The Lunch Box Expansion Project: Chef Ann Foundation believes by changing the way children eat and think about food, we are helping to create a future generation of informed consumers and parents whose food choices will support sustainable, healthy food systems.

Goods for the Greater Good: Good 360 transforms lives and strengthens communities by mobilizing companies to donate needed materials. The non-profit leader in product philanthropy distributes goods to a network of more than 32,000 prequalified charities, schools and libraries on behalf of America’s top brands.

Pact:Pact’s vision is a world where those who are poor and marginalized exercise their voice, build their own solutions, and take ownership of their future. Pact accomplishes this by strengthening local capacity, forging effective governance systems, and transforming markets into a force for development.

Donating money to a non-profit enables it to utilize the funds in a manner that best serves its goal. Donating your time and skills to an organization locally means you understand the importance of the cause and think it is valuable enough to your community for you to contribute. However you choose to start the year, I encourage you to donate your time, effort, skills, or money to an organization you believe supports the future you want to see.

Class is dismissed! You’ve successfully completed the final course in giving back for back-to-school. What did you learn? What do you plan to share? I want to make the final lesson more active than the previous two and hope that my reflections on the fundamentals in starting the school year encouraged you to reminisce as well. I have a couple of questions for you!

How important can a great foundation be for a student to succeed?

How do you define foundation?

What’s your favorite organization? Is it one of the non-profits we mentioned above?

Share with us below, on your Facebook, or on Twitter! We’d love to hear from you.





Going back to school always gave me mixed emotions. Not every year, but at every stage of my education, I felt like expectations of me were bumped up a notch or two. Like going to elementary school after being in daycare, I remember feeling that routine was everything and as long as I remembered how each day was ordered I would be fine. Moving on to middle school after elementary, my new routine included remembering my locker combination and the order and location of seven subject periods. In high school I balanced finding time for my social life while remaining steadfast in my studies. As for college, routine went out the window and time management took over as a preeminent skill to have. Actually, practicing time management in college enhanced lots of other skills for me, including critical thinking, weighing options, and strategizing. Ultimately I realized that while every school year would require an increasing level of life-skills, each year would also involve a lot of repetition.

I am thankful for the things I knew would ensure my success in school. Taking care of updating my immunization records, keeping a supply of crisp uniforms, and enjoying a hot breakfast each morning gave my parents confidence that I would succeed. New school supplies, new shoes, and a fresh learning environment gave me higher heights to reach. A new grade level, more friends, and increasing responsibilities made me feel like I was in a perfect position to excel. Looking back from elementary to undergrad I’m reminded of that old saying that “the more things change, the more they remain the same”. I understand now that repetition of familiar routines helped to ease my nervousness in each new environment, and each new success builds on prior successes.  Fortunately for me, I had familiar and new things to look forward to every year. But many of us don’t.

I can imagine the disappointment felt by a student who starts a new school year feeling unprepared and without many successes to build on. There may be concern for the health of a child who doesn’t have updated immunizations and records. There may be feelings of embarrassment for students who return to class with uniforms that have more wears than those of classmates. And I’m pretty sure it’s hard to focus on the lesson at hand when your tummy is rumbling. New school supplies and new shoes are so exciting to return to school with and many of us don’t fully appreciate how blessed we are to be able to have those things. Determined is the child who manages to complete each grade level, make new friends, and handle new responsibilities despite these obstacles.  Try to imagine the difficulty of not having these resources year after year. Repetition of their absence becomes disturbing over time. The repeated cycle of a lack of preparedness at each stage of your educational career can easily become disturbing. Disturbing and discouraging.

For me, the repetition has changed. This year isn’t about new uniforms or new grade levels, or even a hot breakfast when I’m battling the clock. This year is about new responsibilities, new dreams, new lessons, and maybe most important, new ways of compassion toward others. I’m learning that there are many nonprofit organizations that understand a child’s foundation of success in education goes a long way. They understand that without the proper tools for success children will have more distractions than just their classmates. The distractions hold them back from learning, which sometimes causes a lack of desire to learn.

Helping others and giving back is a substantial way to contribute to your own success, in education and otherwise. Instead of purchasing uniforms for myself, I could donate to an organization that provides uniforms for students who can’t afford them. I could donate to a back-to-school drive that provides students with the right course materials. Or even donating to a favorite health organization that gives free immunization shots could help.

Repeating something good over and over again can make it a habit. How amazing would it be to make a habit of donating to your favorite organization when the back to school season arrives? Cool right? Need help finding some?

Stay tuned for third period where we discuss nonprofit organizations who agree with the fundamentals of back to school.



Every year since 2006, USAID CIDI has hosted the Public Service Announcements for International Disasters (PSAID). The annual PSAID contest gives students and young professionals a chance to showcase their design and video skills on a national level, while educating people on why cash donations work best for disaster relief. This year’s competition was especially strong, with a 2nd consecutive year of at least 100 PSAID entries from across the US!

We’re proud to announce this year’s winners with the PSAID 2014 Press Release. Can’t wait to see what PSAID has in store for 2015!

PSAID 2014 Poster



On April 18, 1906, San Francisco and the surrounding Bay Area experienced a catastrophic natural disaster. The 1906 earthquake, estimated at a 7.8 magnitude, killed approximately 3,000 people and left up to 300,000 without homes. Buildings that survived being toppled by the earthquake were destroyed by fires fueled by the city’s gas mains. In fact, 80% of buildings were destroyed by fire. In addition to the physical and financial impact, the earthquake changed the demographics of California. Tent cities popped up all over San Francisco, resembling modern day refugee camps. Some people stayed in the settlements, but many left for Southern California. Though San Francisco was rebuilt by 1915, Los Angeles eventually overtook San Francisco as the commercial center of the west, as the disaster diverted trade away.

In observance of the 108th anniversary of the San Francisco earthquake , we’ve compiled this photo blog showing the aftermath and the lives affected, courtesy of the San Francisco Public Library. As you’ll find, despite more than a 100 year difference, today’s natural disasters mirror those of the past in many ways. As they do today, people lost everything from their homes to their livelihoods, but showed tremendous resilience despite the losses.

SF 1

View of rubble from California Street.

SF 2

People watching a fire burning on Market Street.

SF 3

The ruins of the First National Bank Building at Bush and Sansome Street.

SF 4

Temporary housing camp at Mission Park (now known as Mission Dolores Park)

SF 6

Children with their mother in front of tents.

SF 5

Refugee camp set up at Clifton Mound (now known as Mint Hill).

SF 8

Family posing in front of their tent.




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.


There’s a day for everything! So what makes World Water Day different from World Nutella Day (February 9th)? Besides calories per serving, that is.

Since 1993, World Water Day has encouraged us to be more mindful, aware, and active in protecting this most precious resource. Initially a day that reminded us to conserve water in the shower, it has grown into an awareness of the complex nature of the world’s water issues and the urgency with which those issues need to be addressed. For example, over 2.5 times more people in the world lack water than live in the United States. Also, an American taking a five-minute shower uses more water than the average person in a developing country uses for an entire day.

Sustainable water resources are especially crucial in the context of a natural disaster. In the early aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan, potable water was among the most urgent needs for survivors. Humanitarian agencies quickly delivered bulk water supplies in the form of tankards, jerry cans, and purification systems. At the same time, they took steps to assess and repair the water infrastructure to meet future demands. Through bulk water supplies and long-term water solutions, survivors of Typhoon Haiyan were provided with a life giving resource.

Ever think of donating water after a disaster? Consider this: sending bottled water to disaster sites can actually be unhelpful. Establishing potable water supplies is always a first priority for disaster responders, who are equipped to supply it expeditiously and in bulk. Donated bottled water  poses a significant trash disposal problem whether it’s used or not. For donors, shipping a six pack of water from the US to Manila costs at least $100, not including follow-on transport from Manila to areas hit by the Typhoon. For all that expense, a six pack will barely hydrate 1 person for one day. That same $100 would be much more effectively invested on World Water Day by donating it to a reputable organization with water and sanitation infrastructure and expertise. Want further proof? You can do the math on the CIDI Donations Calculator.

And remember to read all about the UN’s five year plan to make sure everyone has access to clean water and how you can be part of that effort:

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, and programs supported by Global Giving 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.



Valentine’s Day is here! What’s your plan? Giving flowers or sweets to that special someone? Surprising friends?


It’s not only about the gifts, though. Valentine’s Day is more than a commercial holiday. It is a day set aside to think beyond one’s self and give something that has a positive impact on those around you. This could extend way beyond the traditional chocolate and roses.  Your Valentine’s Day gift can be giving a supportive ear or shoulder to a friend who really needs it.  It can involve being a little nicer to strangers by holding a door open or offering a seat on the bus. Just as you do when you donate for disaster relief or to a charity, you pay attention to those around you, listen to their needs, and respond to those needs with compassion.

If you’re scrambling for a last minute item for a special someone or want to do some good on Valentine’s Day, you have many more options than the traditional heart shaped box of chocolates. You can give anything that leaves a positive impression and creates a ripple effect of kindness and compassion.

Spread the love!



We bet you’re all dressed up, gifts are wrapped, and cookies are baked.

Uhh Ohh…


Christmas 2013 blogDid you forget something? Perhaps a gift for a relative? For a White Elephant Party? For a colleague?

USAID CIDI staff is here to help you overcome that sinking feeling with easy, thoughtful, last minute gifts!


Who doesn’t love the Bahamas? Delfin, our Chief of Media Relations and Strategy, has been dreaming of scuba diving in pristine Caribbean waters all year long. Make sure the Caribbean and its wildlife are here for you to visit time and again by adopting the coral reef. For $50 through The Nature Conservancy, you can protect the ecosystem and the sea turtles that inhabit it. Who doesn’t love turtles?


Long-term recovery and return to normalcy are crucial for survivors. One of the best ways to support this is through a microfinance loan. Eric, our Senior Research Analyst, calls this the Gift of Self Reliance. For $10, you can support Filipino entrepreneurs start a business. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.


Juanita, our Director, is a former English major and bibliophile. Currently, she is engulfed in “Chasing Chaos: My Decade In and Out of Humanitarian Aid”. For Juanita, it harkens back to her time in disaster relief work. For your last minute gift recipient, it tells gritty, gripping tales about the highs, lows and in-betweens of humanitarian work that will inform the soul of the adventure-lover and the dreamer alike. $12.45.


Paris, our Information Management Specialist, wants to support causes that are close to her loved ones’ hearts. Her gift of choice is a GlobalGiving Gift card. It allows the recipient to chose a $10 program or cause that they truly support, all in the name of the holiday spirit.


Chris, our Social Media Specialist, wants a gift that reaches everyone. Even before disasters, those with physical or mental disabilities may already be at a disadvantage. After a disaster, infrastructure and resources are severely limited. Chris, our Social Media Specialist, wants a gift that reaches everyone. That is why his go-to gift is $15 to purchase spare parts for all terrain wheelchairs in Haiti.


Barlin, our Program Coordinator, loves camels-from pictures in her office to camel milk in her tea. She often talks about how vital camels are for nutrition, transportation, and status in Somalia.

Barlin’s perfect gift, last minute or otherwise, is a share of a camel, $85, through Heifer International. Heifer International provides livestock to families in need.

So readjust your tie, munch on a cookie, and go to that holiday party confidently! You’ve crossed off everyone on your gift list while practicing Smart Compassion.

 Happy Holidays from our team to yours! 


Love Urban Dictionary? Enhance your disaster response street cred with these need-to-know buzzwords:

1. Disaster Relief: Disaster survivors frequently need assistance to recover and rebuild. Supplies and programs provided by NGOS on the ground are essential to meet short-term needs like emergency medical care, and longer term ones like shelter.

 Donate cash for disaster relief and give survivors with what they need!”

 2. Smart Compassion: Giving that’s focused on survivor needs as assessed by relief workers on-site. Put another way, giving what survivors actually need – not just what the donor wants to give (unless the donor wants to give cash). Cash donations are easiest for donors and most effective for more survivors than are material donations.

“Who are you texting, Erica?”

 “The disaster relief fund – $10 towards #smartcompassion”  

 3. Cash Donation: This is the most effective way for people to help after a natural disaster. Monetary contributions to reputable, effective NGOs fund vital supplies and services needed immediately following a natural disaster, and for a long time thereafter.

 “A cash donation is fast and flexible.”

 4.Unsolicited Material Donation: Any non-cash donation that is sent without approval or an appeal from a relief organization working with survivors. Bottled water is a popular unsolicited donation.  $1 of water purchased in the US would not supply even one person with enough drinking water for one day (including capital cost, transportation, taxes, etc.).  In contrast, $1 spent in-country could provide drinking water to approximately 80 people for one day. Cash donations are more effective because they can buy exactly what is needed, when it’s needed. And many purchases are made locally, which strengthens the local economy and speeds recovery.  Unsolicited material donations can delay response efforts by taking up space needed to stage and deliver life-saving supplies.

“It will take months to sort through these unsolicited donations!”

 Keep us on our toes-challenge us with your favorite terms! 

Yesterday, the White House pointed to USAID CIDI as the resource to learn how to effectively help people affected by Typhoon Haiyan. Today, Secretary of State John Kerry gave us props too, in high style. We’d love to be your partner too in delivering the best possible help for survivors of Typhoon Haiyan.


John Kerry_Unselfie


We love Twitter and we love clever handles so it naturally follows that we love Tom Murphy or @viewfromthecave.

How do we love thee? Let us count the ways in snippets from your latest piece for Humanosphere: “Want to help the Philippines? Give unrestricted cash”.

1. “Another major disaster strikes and do-gooders rush to help however they can. It is one of the most endearing qualities about humanity, but sometimes your instincts fail you. The compulsion to help can be good, but it is only effective if done right.” Straight out of the gate, Mr. Murphy highlights the importance of what we call “Smart Compassion”-giving effectively.

2. “With disasters, the best way to help people is to donate cash.” Yes and amen! Cash is Best!

3.  “Relief agencies need money to pay for the staff, services and provisions that will help people in need.” That’s the best part of monetary donations to a trusted relief organization: it keeps the life-saving running smoothly, quickly, and efficiently. Aid is not just food and shelter, it is also the infrastructure, supply-lines, and trained experts needed to deliver and give aid quickly.

4. “Aid workers compete by telling stories about their craziest experiences.” Uh, no comment(!)

5. “Airplanes filled with non-essential unwanted goods suck up fuel, money and space on the airstrip.” This was unfortunately the case in Haiti, Katrina, and every major disaster we have seen here at USAID CIDI since 1988. The costs are not just monetary but to lives saved, first aid given, and food aid dispensed.

6. “The thought is to jump on a plane and lend a hand. You will create more work for the relief agencies who need to manage you and the fact that you take up valuable plane space that could be filled with skilled aid workers or lifesaving supplies.” The reality of volunteering without being skilled or affiliated with a relief organization is that you not only waste your own money taking leave, paying for gear, and buying a ticket, you also take away food, shelter, money, and the attention of professionals from survivors.

7. “You can make a difference in the Philippines, but it is through your checkbook, not your closet. There are organizations that have a long history of working in post-disaster areas. They are your best bet to make sure that your money will reach Filipino people.” You as a donor have power and the ability to save people but it has to be done with Smart Compassion! We encourage you to check out our Smart Compassion Toolkit before scoping the reliable, time-tested organizations within the InterAction and GlobalGiving networks. Don’t see anything you like? It’s ok! Donate to an organization you are philosophically aligned with.

I Was Here

Image credit to the UN.


As we approach World Humanitarian day, one thing comes to mind. Every year on August 19, we honor people who work in humanitarian projects around the world. These true humanitarians make many personal sacrifices in order to provide assistance to others. And  their work is often risky – even life threatening.  August 19 is World Humanitarian Day, established in honor of Special Representative of the UN Secretary General to Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello, and 20 members of his staff who died tragically in a car bombing on August 19, 2003.

Humanitarian professionals work in a variety of sectors. Some focus on water and sanitation initiatives. Others are trained for search and rescue, shelter, livelihood restoration, nutrition and rapid response following natural disasters. They work across multiple sectors around the globe, but one doesn’t need a plane ticket to be a humanitarian.

To be a humanitarian requires two basic things. First is a concern for the welfare of all people. The second is a classic humanitarian concept dating back to the Hippocratic Oath – do no harm. A way to insure against doing harm is to ensure your help is wanted and required, to avoid the possibility of causing harm despite your best intentions.  You may know from the experience of giving or receiving a gift that bombed- good intentions do not always guarantee good outcomes.

There are so many ways to connect with and help others! Want to give to a worthy cause? Donate cash to a responsible organization working in a sector you believe in. If you have only have material goods to give, that’s okay. You can donate them locally, or sell them and donate the proceeds. Take an idea from our “55 Ways to Repurpose a Material Donation”. Once you’ve decided to help others without causing harm, you’re bound to be a humanitarian in your hood.

For more ideas on how to be humanitarian in your hood, stay tuned for tips in future blogs.

Summer is a time in our country when natural disasters often strike.  One special disaster that’s hit our country this summer is the Sharknado, a powerful storm that has pierced the American consciousness in a direct-to-TV SyFy movie released in mid-July.  The film’s premise revolves around a freak tropical storm so powerful that it literally sucks sharks out of the ocean and sends them through the air in a “sharknado” that pours across the Los Angeles basin. The film’s campy premise and unmistakable name have caught internet fire and attracted the attention of millions. Despite the unlikely scenario, it begs the question of what the aftermath and recovery from a sharknado would entail.

First responders would immediately be confronted with a confusing and rapidly evolving situation. Buildings would be damaged by strong winds and heavy rains as well as from the sharks themselves, which would be scattered throughout the disaster zone.  News media would broadcast stunning and dramatic images around the world of the devastation, the emergency rescue efforts, and on the suffering of the sharknado survivors. In a surge of compassion and generosity, people all over the country and throughout the world would respond with donations and some would even show up on the shark-affected scene to offer their help. As noble and well-intentioned as those actions would be, it may end up doing little good and might even make a bad situation worse.

During a time like this, unsolicited donations could clog up vital supply chains and bring the wrong items to the wrong people. Blankets and sneakers are of little use when live sharks are still attacking.  Volunteers who show up on the scene could themselves become casualties and would need to be assessed and trained before being deployed. By contrast, cash donations would not cause such logistical complications as it is typically the most effective way to support rescue, relief and recovery efforts for a sharknado or any non-shark related disaster.

That isn’t to say that there wouldn’t be requests for specific, solicited donations. Undoubtedly, some relief organizations would need blood donations and medical supplies, and would ask for them from the general public. If you want to help relief efforts after a natural disaster but don’t know how best to do so, keep in mind that cash is always helpful and almost always the best way to help.

Natural disasters, with or without fins and teeth, have a lot in common. They can strike when you least expect them to, and they almost always create a confusing and dynamic situation for relief organizations.  A Sharknado may seem a bit far-fetched, but the lesson that cash is best is anything but.

Danielle Heiberg, Senior Program Coordinator, InterAction

Americans are generous. According to Giving USA: The Annual Report on Philanthropy, they gave nearly $3 billion to their favorite charities and causes in 2011. InterAction, an alliance of nearly 200 non-governmental organizations (NGOs or charitable organizations), estimates that in 2009 its members received $9 billion in private donations (which includes the public, foundations and corporations). InterAction members use these charitable donations to support their work helping the most poor and vulnerable. But where? And how?

To help answer these questions InterAction developed NGO Aid Map, an online initiative to map where InterAction members work and the specific projects they carry out in these countries. For the past two years, we have mapped the work of our members in Haiti, the Horn of Africa, and food security (or agriculture projects) globally. This past spring, we expanded the initiative to include China, India and Mexico.  And we plan to take the map global next year.

The projects on NGO Aid Map are provided voluntarily and are only a part of the picture of what the many charities in the U.S. are doing in the developing world, but it is an important first step towards understanding how billions of dollars in donations are used.

To date, over 3,800 projects from over 130 organizations have been added to NGO Aid Map. The site is searchable by organization, types of projects and geographical location. Visitors can learn more about a project to reduce newborn, maternal and child deaths  in India or about a micro-finance project in Haiti, among many others. Most importantly, the data is open and available for download, making the work of InterAction NGOs transparent

We encourage you to visit NGO Aid Map to learn more about what your favorite charity is doing and how your donations are making a difference in the lives of others.


NGO Aid Map is an initiative of InterAction and is funded by FedEx and the International Fund for Agriculture Development (IFAD). For more information contact [email protected]


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 Caribbean is one of the most hurricane-prone regions in the world, killing people every year and making communities more vulnerable with each and every storm that hits. But it wasn’t a hurricane that put Yen Carlos Reyes at risk.

Reyes’s father dealt drugs in one of the poorest neighborhoods in the Dominican Republic and rival gang members routinely raided his home. His mother abandoned Reyes, leaving him to bounce around from one relative’s house to another.  At age 17, he was a street fighter in the Dominican Republic, headed for jail—or worse.

Reyes’ story is one that resonates with many youth across the islands, where a lack of opportunities leads teens to partake in the crime and violence that plagues their communities. But now, in some of the toughest neighborhoods across the Caribbean, the energy and creativity of at-risk youth are being channeled to help them make the leap from neighborhood trouble-maker to community life saver.

St Patricks Rangers a voluntary youth club in Jamaica

Members of the St. Patrick’s Rangers, a voluntary youth club in Jamaica, engage in a map reading session through a disaster preparedness program led by USAID’s partner, Catholic Relief Services. Photo Credit: Catholic Relief Services

The Youth Emergency Action Committees (YEAC) program led by Catholic Relief Services (CRS) with support from USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (USAID/OFDA) is one that transforms teens like Reyes into disaster-preparedness leaders. It teaches young people how to plan for and respond to hurricanes, administer first aid, map out evacuation routes and set up emergency shelters. In dedicating himself to the program, Reyes just may have saved his own life.

Started in September 2009 in four of the most hazard-prone and marginalized neighborhoods of inner-city Kingston, Jamaica, CRS began engaging youth through an ‘edutainment’ approach—education plus entertainment. Teens write music, create skits, and perform them to raise community awareness about disaster preparedness while simultaneously learning life-saving skills. Rap music, in particular, has been a big hit, with the group  coming up with lyrics such as, “Send in the broom and the shovel. Don’t bring the violence, please leave the trouble.” Because the program was so successful, CRS expanded it to the Dominican Republic, St. Lucia and Grenada.

Reyes says his priorities shifted and his life changed when he joined YEAC. With his teammates, Reyes helped build new homes and rehabilitate old ones for families whose houses were not able to withstand natural disasters. When Hurricane Sandy hit Puerto Plata, Reyes and the others on his committee—named El Esquadron, or the Squadron—were ready, helping to relocate 80 families to emergency shelter and implementing a disaster response plan for their community.  Reyes says he has a whole new set of goals including going back to school, thanks to the confidence YEAC has given him.

“Little by little, I started to see that I had value and that the other kids weren’t judging me. The work we did within the communities made me feel like I had something to offer and I started to see that my neighbors were looking at me different too,” said Reyes.

Watch this video for an in-depth look on how the program made a positive impact in Jamaica.

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.

By A. Sezin Tokar, Ph.D., Senior Hydrometeorological Hazard Advisor, USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance

Flash floods are the number one weather-related killer and the most fatal side effect of hurricanes. They kill thousands of people every year and cause millions of dollars in damage by destroying buildings and bridges, uprooting trees and overflowing rivers within mere minutes.

Trinidad Bolivia Flood USAID response

USAID responds to more floods than any other type of natural disaster, like this one in Trinidad, Bolivia in 2003. Photo Credit: USAID

Flash floods occur when excess water caused by heavy and rapid rainfall from tropical storms or hurricanes cannot be quickly absorbed into the earth. This fast-moving water can be extremely powerful, reaching heights of more than 30 feet. But it takes only six inches of water to knock a person to the ground or 18 inches to float a moving car.

USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance recognizes that while flash floods are deadly in even the most developed countries, they can really wreak havoc in densely populated regions around the world that lack strong infrastructure. Hurricane-prone regions throughout Latin America and the Caribbean are especially vulnerable, which is why USAID works with host countries year-round to help them prepare.

Even though the onset of flash floods is almost immediate, it is possible to give up to a six hour window of advanced notice—just enough time to save lives.

The advanced warning is given through the Flash Flood Guidance System, a scientific method of accumulating rainfall data and analyzing the rate at which the ground absorbs it. USAID works closely with meteorological experts in hurricane-prone countries, training them on how this system works so that they can be on the lookout for potential flash floods. Using the system gives disaster-prone countries the opportunity to use those crucial six hours before a flash flood hits to implement emergency plans and move as many people out of harm’s way.

Six hours may seem like a lot of lead time, but it’s actually not when you’re rushing to alert remote and heavily populated villages—with limited communication—about an approaching disaster. Flash floods can’t be prevented, but USAID is committed to helping people better prepare for and recover from them. Because when it comes to saving lives and alleviating suffering, every minute counts.

Children play in the streets of a camp for internally displaced people in Port-au-Prince, Haiti after Hurricane Tomas made landfall in November 2010.

As America saw with Hurricane Sandy, it takes just one bad storm to wreak havoc, kill and injure hundreds and inflict billions of dollars of damages. If one hurricane can do so much damage in the U.S., imagine the impact of similar storms on less developed countries.

Forecasters are predicting an active 2013 Atlantic hurricane season.  During this week, we will be highlighting USAID’s work—through its Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance—to prepare disaster-prone countries and communities in Latin America and the Caribbean for hurricanes.

Hurricane Preparedness Week is May 26-June 1, following the release of the official forecast for the 2013 Atlantic hurricane season. This week will highlight USAID’s work helping disaster-prone countries in Latin America and the Caribbean prepare for and recover from hurricanes.

Hurricane Stan Central America and Mexico

Hurricane Stan destroyed this building and many others in Central America and Mexico during the 2005 hurricane season. Photo credit: USAID

The National Hurricane Center announced on May 23 that 2013 will be a very active year, with between seven to 11 storm systems expected to develop into hurricanes.

USAID—through its Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance—is prepared to meet the demands of a busy hurricane season. It has been working year-round with countries in Latin America and the Caribbean to ensure emergency and evacuation plans are in place.

All this week, USAID’s Impact blog will showcase how USAID and its partners have been helping to prepare hurricane-prone countries and communities for disasters, including:

  • Training on the Flash Flood Guidance System
    USAID works closely with meteorological experts in hurricane-prone countries, training them how to use this scientific system to help communities escape the most fatal side effect of hurricanes.