It’s been 44 days since Hurricane Maria ravaged Puerto Rico and there are still many people in need of basic supplies, medicine and housing. Nonprofits are stepping to the plate, but how can you make sure that the your donations to these organizations translate into action on the ground? Below are 10 things you should consider before making a donation. Thank you Imanol E. Caballero for allowing us to share this translation of his article.

Things To Consider Before You Donate to Organizations Post-Hurricane María. Author: Imanol E. Caballero

In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, thousands of people have asked each other how best to help, where to send relief supplies, what supplies to send, who to donate to and who to trust. Dozens of new initiatives, with good intentions, have been created to meet the needs on the island. Artists and politicians have called for donations to various organizations they are backing. But, what are the must-haves for entities to ensure a donor’s intentions translate to action on the ground? It is important, beyond the good-faith efforts of the entity that promotes the drive or fundraiser, that the organization has community-based contacts and that it abides by basic principles of transparency and accountability recognized by expert organizations. It is not enough to “promise” that money or donations will arrive and will be used properly.

It is common to raise large amounts of money after a humanitarian crisis. As an example, according to the United Nations, between 2010-2012, approximately $ 6.04 billion was raised in humanitarian aid for the recovery of Haiti, but the results in the end were questionable. Since then, there has been an arduous debate about how to improve the performance of corporate, governmental and non-governmental initiatives borne from natural disasters and humanitarian crises.

What follows are basic principles to consider before you donate or participate in relief and recovery initiatives. Some are relevant for government and non-governmental entities to ensure transparency and avoid mismanagement of funds. They are adapted from the following reports: 1- Preventing Corruption in Humanitarian Assistance sponsored by Feinstein Humanitarian Center of Tufts University, Humanitarian Policy Group and Transparency International and 2- Handbook in Preventing Corruption in Humanitarian Operations of Transparency International.

1. Purpose of the Collection/Fundraiser
The organization must communicate how the money or goods will be specifically used beyond general terms such as “For the Recovery of Puerto Rico.” For example: Distribute food to the elderly; impact low-income mothers in a specific region of the island; buy materials for rescuer workers in flooded areas.

2. Long and Short-Term Plan
It is not unusual for entities to lose focus on a project when it is thought there has been impact on the beneficiaries. To address this entities must communicate goal and performance measures up front.

3. Identifying need by region / community
The entity must communicate how it identified the need. A common mistake is to think that different areas or regions have the same need when in fact the needs of different communities, populations, and regions can vary immensely.

4. Publication of revenues and expenditure reports
The organization must routinely publish income and expenditures of the initiative to satisfy public scrutiny. To this end, they must audit using an independent entity. The report should explain the criteria used in the analysis.

5. Collections/drives must routinely publish the following:
a. Inventories of products received and distributed
b. Destination of donations
c. Day and time supplies were sent and received
d. Individuals / community leaders or government agencies that received supplies

6. Community validation
The organization must have community support. Communities have their ear to the ground and can validate if in fact the actions taken by the entity correlate with the goals communicated to donors.
a. The organization should promote open discussion between beneficiaries and donors through social events, chats, teleconference calls, and other.
b. The entity must publish minutes on the decision-making regarding the aid and who is involved in the decisions.

7. Openness to press scrutiny.
The entity must routinely communicate its efforts to the press.

8. Performance Reporting.
Commitment to publish independent reports with findings and recommendations on practices to improve humanitarian aid work or response to natural disasters.
a. The recommendations should incorporate feedback from beneficiaries and donors collected through interviews and research.
b. If a private entity is hired, they must have contracting protocols in place to avoid mismanagement of funds and conflicts of interest. To this end, it is important to have an anti-corruption policy in place for humanitarian aid initiatives. It is not enough to state a ‘zero corruption tolerance’ policy but remain silent when it occurs or not have mechanisms to address it.

9. Have a contact available to answer frequently asked questions.
Have whistleblower protocols in place to receive and respond to complaints of misuse of supplies or mismanagement of money should they occur.

10. Have multisectoral collaboration policies.
Organizations must have collaboration protocols in place to coordinate their efforts with other organizations or the government. Neither government nor NGOs can deal with a humanitarian crisis or disaster response projects on their own. It is a good sign when organizations are endorsed by other organizations or have independent sponsors. The practice of endorsements and technical support networks between organizations should be encouraged.


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