My heart goes out to all of the Texans battling Hurricane Harvey and its vicious aftermath. It has been so moving to see the images of bravery and generosity. When the waters are rising fast, there is no age, no race, and no gender. From the Cajun Navy to Marines volunteering for the Xena Project to bring in stranded horses from neighboring ranches, this is America at its very best.
From a distance, I want to be able to help so badly, but I want to use my head as well as my heart to be as effective and efficient as possible. In the end, giving is not about feeling good about myself: It is about actually helping those in need. To that end, I have seen how donations work from the perspective of a crisis volunteer and have some thoughts to share.
First, well-intentioned donors can swamp front line volunteers with gifts in kind and over communication. If a front line organization has not asked for something specific, please simply donate money and allow them to allocate it. If you are not in an emergency, don’t tie up their phones, e-mails, or social media with non-emergency messages. It is natural to want to feel involved, but it can be massively counterproductive, too.
Secondly, scams can be rampant when emotions run high. I have watched with concern as several suspicious “charities” have solicited donations in downtown New Canaan over the past few years. They frequently are not locals and they’ve proven unable to answer basic questions about their financials and tax status. Many frauds will draw you in with vague connections to a crisis or children or animals. Be careful.
Instead, we can donate to organizations that can help people in crisis now such as Americares and Red Cross. They will get aid, medicine, and supplies to people who need it right away. If you are not sure about a charity, you can use monitors such as Charity Navigator. Right here in New Canaan, the New Canaan Community Foundation is a great resource for making sure your donations go where they should.
New Canaan is a generous town with a lot of citizens willing and able to make a big impact on our world, especially when there is a crisis. Moving images, especially on social media, can motivate us to act. But when our hearts are moved, our brains should protect us from unscrupulous telemarketers, popup charities, email solicitations, and street hustlers claiming to be victims. That way we can have the most impact.