Monetary Contributions to Established Relief Agencies are Always the Most Useful Response to DisastersSOURCE: http://www.cidi.org/guidelines/guide_ln.htm
Financial contributions allow professional relief organizations to purchase exactly what is most urgently needed by disaster victims and to pay for the transportation necessary to distribute those supplies. Unlike in-kind donations, cash donations entail no transportation cost. In addition, cash donations allow relief supplies to be purchased at locations as near to the disaster site as possible. Supplies, particularly food, can almost always be purchased locally - even in famine situations. This approach has the triple advantage of stimulating local economies (providing employment, generating cash flow), ensuring that supplies arrive as quickly as possible and reducing transport and storage costs. Cash contributions to established legitimate relief agencies are always considerably more beneficial than the donation of commodities.
Confirm There is a Need for All Items Being Collected.
Do not make assumptions about the needs of disaster victims. Exactly what is needed can be confirmed by checking with an established relief organization that has personnel working on-site. Do not send what is not needed; unneeded commodities compete with priority relief items for transportation and storage. Organizations that receive in-kind relief donations can help this process by clearly communicating what items are required (in what size, type, etc.) as well as clearly stating what items or services are NOT needed. Please remember, certain foods, particularly in famine situations, can make victims ill. In most cases, donations of canned goods are not appropriate. The collection of bottled water is highly inefficient. It is important to have an accurate analysis of need before determining response.
Deliver Items Only to Organizations having Local Distribution Capacity
Distributing relief supplies requires personnel and financial resources within the affected country. To efficiently distribute relief commodities, staff, warehouses, trucks and communications equipment are required. It is not enough to gather supplies and send them to an affected region; a sound partnership with a reliable local agency having transport and management capacity is mandatory.
Donate Only to Organizations having the Ability to Transport Collected Items to the Affected Region
Immediately after a disaster, many local organizations will spontaneously begin collecting miscellaneous items for use in disaster relief. However, at the time that these collections are begun, agency officials will not have thought about to whom, or how, the items will be sent. It is not unusual for community and civic groups to have collected several thousands of pounds of relief supplies only to find that they do not know whom to send the supplies to and that they do not have viable transportation options for shipping the goods. At this juncture, it is often advisable for those collecting the goods to auction them off locally, converting commodities into cash to be applied to the relief effort.
Never Assume the U.S. Government or any Relief Agency Will Transport Unsolicited Relief Items Free of Charge
It is important to make arrangements for the transportation before collecting any kind of material donations. Never assume that the government or any relief agency will transport donations free of charge (or even for a fee). In the majority of cases, the collecting agency will be responsible for paying commercial rates for the transportation and warehousing of items gathered.
Volunteer Opportunities for Disaster Relief are Extremely Limited
Volunteers without prior disaster relief experience are generally not selected for relief assignments. Candidates with the greatest chance of being selected have fluency in the language of the disaster-stricken area, prior disaster relief experience, and expertise in technical fields such as medicine, communications logistics, water/sanitation engineering. In many cases, these professionals are already available in-country. Most agencies will require at least ten years of experience, as well as several years of experience working overseas. It is not unusual to request that volunteers make a commitment to spend at least three months working on a particular disaster. Most offers of another body to drive trucks, set up tents, and feed children are not accepted. Keep in mind that once a relief agency accepts a volunteer, they are responsible for the volunteer's well-being -i.e., food, shelter, health and security. Resources are strained during a disaster, and another person without the necessary technical skills and experience can often be a considerable burden to an ongoing relief effort.