Op-Ed: Giving with a Soft Heart and Hard Head

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.

Rich Townsend. Contributed

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.

6 thoughts on “Op-Ed: Giving with a Soft Heart and Hard Head

  1. Well said, Rich, at a critical moment in time for our country. All our eyes are fixed on Texas. We Americans are a generous people when our fellow citizens are in need, but we need to give wisely. Thank you!

  2. Thank you Rich for this thoughtful message. We live in such a generous community and it’s important that we are thoughtful givers.

  3. We moved to New Canaan almost four years ago after spending 38 years in Texas — most of that in Corpus Christi. Our oldest child was born in Houston. This disaster is very personal to our family. Please, please be careful where you send your money. It is desperately needed, but all of us want to be sure that it goes directly to the people who are in dire need of our funds. In addition to Americares, I would suggest the Food Bank of Corpus Christi (donate directly through their website) or the Houston Food Bank (donate through their website). I have experience with both of these organizations, and I can assure you that the money you send will be responsibly used to feed the hungry, displaced persons in those cities and surrounding areas. I also would like to thank anyone who contributes. Your money WILL make a difference. Thank you, Rich, for writing this important article.

  4. Thank you Rich for making our community aware of the many meaningful ways to contribute. The New Canaan Community Foundation provides support and aid to many organizations helping our neighbors with everyday needs and struggles. Thank you for keeping our Southern most friends in our thoughts.

  5. Rich – thank you for reminding all of us that in a crisis, while the urge to act immediately is always there, the reality of a crisis like Hurricane Harvey is that the aftereffects linger far beyond the ceasing of the rain and flooding. The rebuilding will take months and years and will require significant coordination on the ground there. As well-intended as every donor is, it is very important to give where you know your contribution will have maximum impact and reach those most in need.

    In addition to well-known national relief agencies like Americares and the Red Cross, our own New Canaan Community Foundation is in the unique position of being connected to other similar Community Foundations around the country. There is one such Foundation right in Houston. If anyone locally is interested, donations can be made to the New Canaan Community Foundation – http://www.newcanaancf.org/Give/GivingwithNCCF.aspx – and tagged specifically for ‘Harvey Relief’.

    If you have a specific organization you would like to donate to, but prefer to remain anonymous, you can make your gift to NCCF and direct where the funds go while remaining off future marketing and solicitation lists.

    The NCCF Office will coordinate getting those local funds pooled together and into the right hands on the ground in Houston. Neighbors helping Neighbors is what Community Foundations are all about.

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