Nearly four months have passed since Hurricane Maria struck the United States Territory of Puerto Rico. Recovery has been painfully slow; the island is only at 66 percent power generation, and many hard-hit communities are still functioning solely off the food, clean drinking water, and emergency cash that has been supplied by non-profit organizations. There is a long road ahead for those who remain on the island.
Yet, as 2017 came to a close, relief efforts saw a boost in donations, as the holiday season is known to make a positive impact on generosity across the board. According to a study conducted by the Center on Philanthropy (COP) at Indiana University, respondents reported giving approximately 24 percent of their annual total between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. Furthermore, another COP study concluded that of high net-worth donors (specifically, households with income greater than $200,000 and net worth over $1 million), 42.7 percent of participants gave more during the holidays than the rest of the year.
While this upward trend in giving is greatly appreciated by the recipient organizations, they often see massive downturns in two key time-periods: approximately six weeks after a natural disaster, and just after a new year has begun. This may not be surprising: after these events, life moves on, news outlets feature other stories and, unfortunately, new disasters grasp our attention. The fact remains, however, that these relief efforts and charities still need help long after the cameras stop filming and the holiday season has passed. These drops in giving activity can be counteracted if contributors follow a key principle: continue to donate when the world is no longer watching.
Staggering charitable gifts is an effective method of propelling recovery efforts, especially in the case of natural disasters, as their impacts are far more pervasive and difficult to reverse than their man-made counterparts. New Orleans took upwards of 10 years to fully recover from Hurricane Katrina and the widespread flooding that followed. Houston is not projected to rebound from Hurricane Harvey until at least 2020.
Additionally, it is imperative that each individual does their due diligence and researches each charity related to the causes they wish to support. Ideally, funds should be sent to charities that are transparent about their financial structure and non-profit tax status. If an organization is credible, they will post their tax forms, called 990s, directly to their website.
Furthermore, it is advisable that you steer clear of crowdfunding initiatives or charities that appear shortly after a disaster. Unless you personally know the individuals behind these efforts, you may be funneling money into the hands of someone who does not know how to properly disseminate resources following a natural disaster.
There is no set timeline for Puerto Rico’s recovery; even experts are not sure when, or if, the island will ever be pieced together again. However, this is a perfect example of how we must not allow the victims to fall to the back of our minds. Hopefully some of the suggestions made here will help clarify the structure and direction of your charitable giving, so that those most in need can get the continued help and support they deserve.