We wanted to give money to assist the victims of last weekend’s earthquake-tsunamis disaster in Southeast Asia so we began to look at relief agency websites. We discovered that practices regarding earmarking funds vary widely among relief organizations. So those wanting to earmark funds to the victims of the earthquake-tsunamis need to read the fine print carefully.
There is no doubt that many disaster relief organizations do....
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an excellent job of aiding victims. These folks are faced with a difficult task when it comes to reconciling fundraising appeals and full disclosure. While everybody is concerned about the tragedy in Southeast Asia because of the shear magnitude of the devastation, everybody should be equally concerned about the family who is left homeless because of a house fire. The reality is that disaster relief agencies like the Red Cross receive large volumes of contributions following a disaster of the type that occurred last weekend, but rarely receive anything in direct response to a house fire or other less publicized disaster. Hence, the earthquake-tsunamis victims become poster children for disaster relief, posing a disclosure dilemma for disaster relief organizations. The public has every right to expect that money they give for earthquake-tsunamis disaster relief go to the victims, but unless some of that money is siphoned off, organizations will not be able to fund relief to those who suffer unpublicized disasters. This explains why there are different practices regarding earmarking of funds. The Red Cross does not permit specific earmarking (beyond international disasters), while other organizations do permit earmarking. Each donor has to make a philosophical judgment: Does the donor help just one group of victims or does the donor give to a general fund, knowing that some of the gift will aid the victims that generated the donation, but not all of the money will aid those victims. That is a choice that each person must make on his or her own. Either choice is laudable if it means a donation is made.
After reviewing the websites of a number of disaster relief organizations, we concluded that by and large, organizations are fairly disclosing their intentions when it comes to earmarking funds for the earthquake-tsunamis victims. But as is always the case, donor beware. If you want to earmark your funds, you need to review the website and online donation form carefully.
The following organizations were listed in the New York Times (Page A10 National Edition—December 28, 2004) as agencies accepting contributions “to aid people affected by the earthquake and tsunami in Asia:” [Those organizations highlighted in dark green unambiguously allow the donor to earmark online donations for earthquake-tsunamis relief--but you are responsible for confirming this to your own satisfaction.]
Action Against Hunger: http://www.actionagainsthunger.org This organization appears to permit the donor to choose to donate funds earmarked for earthquake-tsunamis relief. When you click on the lead link you are taken to a page that focuses exclusively on earthquake-tsunamis relief. The bottom of the page carries the following disclaimer
Donations made in support of our Southeast Asian programs will be used where needed most to help struggling people.
We assume this means that the funds will be used in the affected countries, but the language is a bit ambiguous.
[JANUARY 9, 2005 UPDATE: Action against Hunger has now modified its statement regarding earmarking funds. It now provides as follows:
Donations made in support of our Southeast Asia emergency programs are currently funding our activities in Indonesia and Sri Lanka, but may be employed elsewhere within the region to properly address the needs and consequences of the South Asia disaster. All earmarked funds will be used solely for relief and rehabilitation activities within tsunami-affected South Asia.
We view now view this statement as being much more clear as to the ability of donors to earmark their funds for South Asia tsunami relief.
American Jewish World Service: http://www.ajws.org. This organization appears to permit the donor to choose to donate funds earmarked for earthquake-tsunamis relief. When you click on the lead link you are taken to a page that focuses exclusively on earthquake-tsunamis relief. The page does contain the following disclaimer
Ninety-five percent of all emergency funds go directly to supporting relief efforts.
The fact that there are other online donation pages and this particular page focuses on earthquake-tsunamis relief suggests that the 95% number means that some overhead allocation is being taken from the money (which is fine), but that the money will go to earthquake-tsunamis relief rather than relief for some other tragedy.
American Friends Service Committee: http://www.afsc.org. This organization makes no specific mention of earthquake-tsunamis relief on its website. It does provide for telephone and mail donations to a Crisis Fund, which the site describes as follows:
Your gift will give AFSC the resources to respond to the suffering caused by war and natural disasters. A gift today will help us be ready where and when we are needed in the event of a manmade or natural disaster.
The site devotes considerable space to issues pertaining to the Iraq War. The site is obviously not misleading when it comes to earthquake-tsunamis relief since it doesn’t mention it. The organization may channel funds to such relief, but there is no guarantee from the donor’s perspective.
American Red Cross: http://www.redcross.org. The American Red Cross website has a number of features related to the earthquake-tsunamis. Undoubtedly, some of a donor’s money will find its way to the victims of the earthquake-tsunamis. However, donors cannot earmark funds for earthquake-tsunamis relief, nor is there any sense of what percentage of a donated dollar will go to provide such relief. The site provides
You can help those affected by this crisis and countless others around the world each year by making a financial gift to the American Red Cross International Response Fund, which will provide immediate relief and long-term support through supplies, technical assistance, and other support to those in need. Call 1-800-HELP NOW or 1-800-257-7575 (Spanish). Contributions to the International Response Fund may be sent to your local American Red Cross chapter or to the American Red Cross International Response Fund, P.O. Box 37243, Washington, DC 20013. Internet users can make a secure online contribution by visiting www.redcross.org.
Those making online donations should select the International Response Fund if they are interested in channeling their donations to earthquake-tsunamis relief. But donors should recognize that the Red Cross is not obligated to channel any portion of the their contributions to earthquake-tsunamis relief. We did call the Red Cross, and were informed that donors could earmark their gifts for earthquake-tsunamis relief by making a contribution by telephone.
Catholic Relief Services: http://www.catholicrelief.org This organization has an article on its home page discussing the earthquake-tsunamis. The online donation form doesn’t mention the earthquake-tsunamis disaster, but it does permit the donor to enter a text message (after checking the “Other” circle) specifying how he or she would like the donation used. We would have preferred a specific reference to the earthquake-tsunamis disaster, particularly given the fact that the press release indicates that Catholic Relief Services has initially budgeted $500,000 to the earthquake-tsunamis disaster (indicating that the budget will be increased as more information becomes available). We suspect that the $500,000 amount has already been met given its relatively small size. Our question: What happens to any excess funds raised by the organization?
Direct Relief International: http://www.directrelief.org. This organization has an article on its home page discussing the earthquake-tsunamis, but the online donation form makes no mention of this specific disaster. While the article mentions that the organization has been in contact with partner organizations in the Southeast Asia, there appears to be no guarantee that donated funds will go to assist the victims of that disaster. We have little doubt that funds will be channeled to those victims, but donors should recognize that the website doesn’t permit earmarking, nor does it state what percentage of donations will go to aid victims of that disaster.
[January 5, 2005 Addition: Since the original post, Direct Relief International has developed and implemented a very transparent policy regarding donor intentions. Anyone who wants to designate funds for tsunami relief should be very comfortable with the policy and their ability to do so. See our more recent post on Direct Relief for additional information.]
Doctors Without Border: http://www.doctorswithoutborders.org. This organization’s home page has an extensive discussion of the earthquake-tsunamis disaster. However, the online donation form does not permit the donor to earmark funds to aid victims of that disaster. One again, while some portion of a donor’s contribution is likely to benefit victims of the earthquake-tsunamis disaster, nothing prevents this organization from allocating some portion of the donation to other disasters.
On a Personal Note: We used to use Doctors Without Borders as our disaster-relief charity. However, we received a report from the organization indicating that those on the ground were also engaged in "human rights" reporting activities. While that activity may be worthwhile, we wanted our money to provide supplies and medical help to the victims, not to fund investigation and report writing. For that reason we no longer contribute to Doctors Without Borders—that is not to say you should follow our lead or that Doctors Without Borders is a bad organization. Simply put, their priorities and ours differed slightly so we now donate elsewhere. In fact, much to the organization’s credit, we received a very personalized response from the president of Doctors Without Borders to our letter raising our concerns about the human rights activity.
International Medical Corps: http://www.imcworldwide.org. This organization’s home page prominently features the earthquake-tsunamis disaster. A subsequent webpage links donation directly to the earthquake-tsunamis disaster. However, the online donation form does not permit earmarking and makes no mention of the earthquake-tsunamis disaster.
American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee: http://www.jdc.org. This organization’s home page prominently features the earthquake-tsunamis disaster. This organization permits specific earmarking of funds, including a dropdown box on its online donation form that specifically permits the donor to select earthquake-tsunamis relief.
Mercy Corps: http://www.mercycorps.org. This organization’s home page prominently features the earthquake-tsunamis disaster. This organization permits specific earmarking of funds, including a dropdown box on its online donation form that specifically permits the donor to select earthquake-tsunamis relief.
Operation USA: http://www.opusa.org. This organization, although well-intentioned, has a deceptive website when it comes to earmarking of funds. There is a link labeled “On-line Donation for Asia Quake and Tsunami Relief Efforts.” However, the online form is a general form. It provides for earmarking for the “Clean Water Project,” but we could not find a definition for that project and we suspect it is not related to the earthquake-tsunamis disaster—although clean water certainly is an issue for the victims of the earthquake-tsunamis. In all fairness, the website does list previous airlifts sponsored by this organization. Based on that list, there is little doubt that this organization will sponsor an airlift to aid the earthquake-tsunamis victims. But the question for many is: Will all of my contribution go to earthquake-tsunamis victims (with a reasonable allowance for organizational overhead)? The online form doesn’t answer that question or guarantee a result.
Save the Children: http://www.savethechildren.org. Save the Children has an article on its homepage regarding the earthquake-tsunamis disaster, but interestingly, it is not the most prominent article on its homepage. If you do follow the links, you are given the choice of earmarking your funds for earthquake-tsunamis disaster relief or to aid Save the Children’s general activities.
Islamic Relief USA: http://www.irw.org/asiaquake. If you go to just the Islamic Relief USA website, you will not see a mention of the earthquake-tsunamis disaster on the homepage. However, if you go to the above address, you will find an article on that disaster and links to an online donation form. You are permitted to earmark funds for earthquake-tsunamis disaster relief, as well as a number of other efforts.
Interestingly, the New York Times did not list Care USA: http://www.careusa.org. The Care USA website highlights the earthquake-tsunamis disaster, providing a link to aid earthquake-tsunamis victims. However, the online donation form provides as follows:
Millions around the world need your help right now. Following the devastating tsunami caused by an undersea earthquake in south Asia, CARE is releasing funds to mount a comprehensive emergency response. Your generous contribution will support that response and hundreds of other crucial poverty-fighting projects around the world.
In other words, there is no earmarking of funds permitted in the case of online donations, but some portion of a donation will apparently go toward providing earthquake-tsunamis disaster relief.
We undertook this investigation because we wanted to earmark our gift for tsunamis relief. As we said at the outset, all of these appear to be legitimate and worthy organizations. We suspect any donation to any of these organizations will be put to good use. However, we believe that if organizations are going to make an appeal based on tsunamis relief, then that’s where the money should go (with an appropriate allowance to cover administrative and fundraising expenses). We understand that there is an equally legitimate counter viewpoint—all disasters are disasters and deserve the appropriate attention. That is fine, but each donor is entitled to answer that philosophical question, and donors can only answer that question with full disclosure.
Our focus was on online donations. You can also make donations by mail or over the telephone. Those avenues may provide an opportunity to earmark funds.
A Cautionary Note: Even earmarking dollars doesn't guarantee that your contribution will increase the overall level of support for earthquake-tsunamis disaster relief. Nothing prevents an organization from reallocating unrestricted gifts away from earthquake-tsunamis disaster relief as earmarked contributions increase. The only way to prevent such a reallocation is to write a very specific restriction of the gift. Unless your gift is very large, organizaitons that permit earmarketing may not be willing to accept your gift.
Accuracy of Information. We have reviewed the websites for each of the organizations mentioned. We have not, however, followed every link or searched these sites. So there may be ways to earmark funds that we were not readily apparent to us. Please drop us an e-mail if we have posted incorrect information about these sites. At the same time, this information should be easily available given the the media frenzy and the public's interest.
|THE FOREGOING IS NOT AND SHOULD NOT BE TAKEN AS LEGAL ADVICE. IF LEGAL ADVICE IS REQUIRED, THE NON-PROFIT OR OTHER PARTY IN QUESTION SHOULD SEEK THE ADVICE OF QUALIFIED LEGAL COUNSEL. |
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