Here are some suggestions for donating to a Canadian charity in a disaster such as we recently saw in Haiti.
Donating to a Canadian charity in a disaster - suggestions to ensure funds gets to the most needy
Select charities that are:
a) reputable (usually there is strong name recognition) such as Doctors Without Borders Canada (MSF), Care Canada, Save the Children Canada, Oxfam Canada, World Vision Canada etc.
b) experienced in disaster relief operations
c) ideally have done past work in the disaster area
d) have people on the ground in the disaster area because often it is difficult to get people in.
Also you may want to consider organizations that perhaps have the capacity to move from relief to development work.
Generally avoid telephone solicitations - good disaster relief organizations when dealing with disasters are generally too busy to be calling you - you either have to go to their website or call them to donate.
If you do receive a telephone solicitation or someone knocks on your door be very skeptical and suspicious and be aware of sound alike organizations - best is to go to the internet, do your research and donate directly on their website or send the organization a cheque. Best not to give cash to a door-to-door solicitor.
Avoid newly formed organizations set up to deal with the disaster - by the time they get going months will have passed.
Donate funds, generally not goods. Airlift of goods is very expensive, goods are often not appropriate or don’t get donated in appropriate quantities - not to mention that one wants to try to support the local economy by buying locally the goods instead of dumping our goods on a country which undermines business in that country.
You might want to check out a group called the Humanitarian Coalition made up of Save the Children, Care Canada, Oxfam Canada and Oxfam Quebec - in major disasters these 4 groups work together to coordinate their fundraising and work. I think that this is a great idea. One of the biggest problems facing donors is a barrage of organizations asking for donations - if we have one central organization coordinating disaster relief like the Humanitarian Coalition it will make it very easy for a Canadian donor/foundation to know who they can support. This has been done for decades in the UK - it is called the Disaster Emergency Committee and I am very glad that the Humanitarian Coalition will try to do the same thing here in Canada. http://www.thehumanitariancoalition.ca/
Beware of social media - allow it to inspire you but do your research. Because someone says on Twitter or Facebook that a charity is great does not make it so.
Beware of organizations who make deceptive or misleading marketing claims. For example, you should be wary of organization that claims to have no overhead or administration costs. http://www.globalphilanthropy.ca/index.php/blog/comments/how_much_should_canadian_charity_spend_on_overhead/
Is the organization listed as a registered charity on the CRA website? See http://www.cra-arc.gc.ca/chrts-gvng/chrts/menu-eng.html - most organizations that are based in Canada and do disaster work will be registered charities, however, them being a registered charity almost guarantees nothing other than that they can issue an official donation receipt. There are superb registered charities and others who are ineffectual, bureaucratic, inefficient, and yes there are the massive tax evasion scam charities that CRA has been trying hard to weed out but they keep on popping up.
By visiting the CRA website you can see the T3010 Registered Charity Information Returns for every registered charity which provides some information about the charity - you are cautioned that the individual charities provide the information and it is not verified by anyone and some of the worst charities financial numbers look “great”. There is another paid subscription service called CharityCan that I use which is helpful in that it provides 5 year T3010 information side by side but it still has the limitations of relying on the same T3010 data. https://www.charitycan.ca/default.aspx
Practically the best way to determine if an organization is really good is either to volunteer with the organization, have a close friend or someone you really trust volunteer with the organization or for you or a close friend to receive services from an organization. In a disaster situation you often need to act quickly and you do not have luxury of doing that due diligence and you therefore may find it helpful to select organizations based on the criteria listed above.
As a disclaimer some of the organizations mentioned in this note are clients of mine.
Monetary Contributions to Established Relief Agencies are Always the Most Useful Response to Disasters
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.
Guidelines for Effective Private Sector International Disaster Assistance by Corporate Business
Over Twenty Years Experience Tells Us that Monetary Contributions to Established Relief Agencies are Almost Always the Most Useful Response to International Emergencies.
There are many factors to consider when promoting corporate contributions for international disasters and CIDI is here to offer guidance to a corporation in making these vital decisions.
Corporate Donations of Materials, Equipment and Services May be Useful, If:
1. The government of the affected country has requested and authorized international assistance in forms other than cash contributions.
2. The offer is based upon a specific request from a legitimate, recognized humanitarian agency with existing operations at the disaster site.
3. The recipient agency has a demonstrated, verifiable capability for distribution of commodity or supporting personnel.
4. The offer responds to a specific need that has been evaluated for cultural and economic impact.
5. The offer provides a quality product or service measured against a recognized international industrial standards, familiar in the recipient country.
6. Offers of technical assistance should not over-ride local expertise and management. Foreign providers of technical assistance must recognize that their role will be a support function and not a command function. The government of the affected country maintains decision-making authority.
7. The quantity of donated product will not adversely impact the viability of local business in the short or long term.
8. The material or service offered is not a solicitation for a future business relationship, nor does it obligate or establish a dependent relationship or cost for future maintenance and operation.
9. The declared value of the good or service is of the equivalent wholesale price in the recipient country or the wholesale price for a generic equivalent.
10. Commodity donations are sent with detailed inventory and are packed in accordance with international shipping regulations and standards.
11. International and local transport, warehousing, port clearance, storage and handling costs are paid by the donor.
If you are interested in the issue of dealing with disasters you might find some of the following links helpful:
Mark Blumberg is a lawyer at Blumberg Segal LLP in Toronto, Ontario. To find out more about legal services that Blumbergs provides to Canadian charities and non-profits please visit http://www.canadiancharitylaw.ca or http://www.globalphilanthropy.ca Mark can be contacted at or at 416-361-1982.
This article is for information purposes only. It is not intended to be legal advice. You should not act or abstain from acting based upon such information without first consulting a legal professional.
Do you require legal advice with respect to Canadian or Ontario non-profits or charities?
Mark Blumberg is a partner at the law firm of Blumberg Segal LLP in Toronto and works almost exclusively in the areas of non-profit and charity law.