Disaster Relief Ideas
In the wake of natural disasters — from hurricanes and fires to floods and mudslides — nonprofits, neighbors and volunteers begin to mobilize, collecting donations and giving their time. Whether you’re looking to help someone next door or across the country, here are a few ideas of how you can help in crisis situations.
How to Start
- Help Without Hurting - Before you begin, the key is to ask where your efforts or resources can be best used. People who want to help can start well-meaning efforts that actually create more work and stress for first responders and trained disaster personnel. Instead, start by following the lead of those groups.
- Consider Cash - While hands-on help is great, many times cash donations are the easiest and most effective method for organizations to quickly distribute supplies. Relief organizations such as Red Cross, Habitat for Humanity, Catholic Charities, Salvation Army and Save the Children are experienced in distributing relief supplies quickly. USAID advises: “Unlike material donations, cash involves no transportation costs, shipping delays or customs fees. It also enables relief organizations to spend more time providing aid by spending less time managing goods.”
- Check Credibility - Research the reputation of any organization you want to partner with or donate to and see how efficient they are with their money. A number of online sites can provide perspective, including Give Well, Charity Watch or Charity Navigator, which analyzes financial data on charities and rates them based on their financial health, accountability and transparency. Their four-star rating system shows donors how efficiently they believe a charity will use their support.
- Go Through Official Channels - Donate through an organization’s official website or send a check so you know your donation is secure. Random phone calls and unknown social media pages are more likely to be targeted by scammers.
Help hurricane survivors with a volunteer sign up. SAMPLE
On the Ground and Physical Donations
- Provide Meals - Deliver food or meals for people nearby who have been displaced. Need a place to start? Contact a local church or school that has contacts in the neighborhood and set up a delivery schedule with an online sign up.
- Bring the Boat Brigade - After flooding, organize a boat brigade to have local boat owners help rescue victims and distribute supplies when roads are flooded or blocked. You can even find smartphone apps that work like radios to relay needs and locations to volunteers.
- Donate to Food Banks - These community nonprofits will almost certainly be seeking extra donations to give to disaster victims and the sites that are hosting them. Learn how you can help with these 25 best practices for organizing a food drive. Genius Tip: Organize a food drive with a sign up.
- Store Items - Nursing homes and assisted living facilities may need help to evacuate seniors and move their belongings. A group can offer to store items that residents want to take with them but cannot store while they are in temporary housing.
- Donate Goods - Work with local or national nonprofits to mobilize donations and collect what’s needed. Large nonprofits will often have separate web pages created with updates on local disasters and how donors and volunteers can help. Items you’ll usually find on donation lists: clothing, blankets, bedding, diapers, baby formula and water. Genius Tip: Organize volunteers to help sort donations with an online sign up.
- Donate Blood - Check with your local blood bank or hospital before you go as they may be temporarily displaced or dispatched to the disaster site. If you have a large office, school or church group, you can contact the blood bank to see if they will send a mobile blood bank to your site. Simplify your schedule by creating a sign up for appointments by time slot.
- Help the Helpers - Organize your group to make sandwiches for firefighters, police, emergency medical personnel and others who are working long hours. You could also ask a local restaurant to donate meals.
Coordinate earthquake call center volunteers with a sign up. SAMPLE
Provide a Home
- The Immediate Aftermath - You’ll need to mobilize quickly to help those displaced by disasters, especially if it’s on a large-scale. Some options: churches, schools and unoccupied rental homes can become emergency shelters. If you’ve got a spare room in your house, consider opening it up temporarily to those in need.
- Give Hotel Points - Want to help from afar? Donate hotel points to those who need a place to stay. You can give these to a person directly or to a hotel group that can distribute them. The Red Cross also will accept and distribute points to those in need.
- Donate Airline Miles - Alternatively, you can donate airline miles to people who need to evacuate or want to travel to another part of the country to stay with family or friends while they cope with the disaster.
- Provide Pet Care - If you’re near the natural disaster, work with local animal shelters to coordinate a large-scale foster operation for owners who have to evacuate and can’t bring their pets. During California wildfires, some animal shelters have also waived adoption fees for people who lost pets. Genius Tip: Create an online sign up to recruit prospective pet foster parents.
- Volunteer Expert Advice - Whatever your occupation, you may be able to provide expert advice to those affected by natural disasters. For example, as families think about rebuilding and fixing their properties, you could provide insurance claim help if this is your business expertise. Set up a resource page on your website and offer free consultations to get the ball moving for the displaced.
- Help Rebuild - Partner with Habitat for Humanity and other well-known organizations to rebuild homes and businesses. Keep in mind that some organizations, including Habitat, may not need untrained volunteers immediately after the disaster but much further down the road.
Rally a disaster cleanup team with a sign up. SAMPLE
Raise Money Remotely
- Coffee for Coffee - Local coffee shops can collect donations from their customers to send to a local coffee shop in an affected area. That shop can then give free coffee to first responders and volunteers.
- Hold a Celebrity Photo Fundraiser - Big cities can work with local sports teams from the NFL, NBA and MLB to host picture fundraisers with players. People can sign up to have their picture taken with the local celebrity. The proceeds can be donation to a reputable nonprofit in the affected area.
- Sell Merchandise - A favorite for a reason — create and sell a shirt to raise money with a well-known slogan that best symbolizes the area. Promote your product with online/social media campaign or through a local shop or retailer.
- Text to Donate - After disasters, telecommunications companies will often partner with well-known nonprofits such as the Red Cross to let customers text a phone number to donate.
- Partner with a Local Restaurant/Brewery - Create a special drink or dish, and give proceeds to charity from any sales.
- Hold a Breakfast Fundraiser - Plan a pancake breakfast and invite a local celebrity to speak. Ticket sales go to a charity that supports disaster relief.
- Plan an Art Auction - Ask local artists to commission special works that tie back to the area affected by natural disaster that you’re trying to help. Hold a silent auction fundraiser where you display the artwork and people can bid on the pieces.
- Hold a Benefit Concert - Sponsor a concert fundraiser at a local coffee shop, pub or restaurant with live entertainment.
- Give Matching Gifts - Work with local employers to go above and beyond any normal matching giving they offer employees. For instance, ask a company to pledge to match the first $5,000 — or more — donated by employees for disaster relief.
- Penny Drive - Get kids involved at school by hosting a penny drive and donate the collected money. Kick off the competition by awarding a pizza party to the winning class.
- Movie Night - Hold a movie on the green at a school or community park and ask for a donation for admission. Sell concessions to raise extra money for your cause.
Before you set up a fundraiser or volunteer, examine the true needs of disaster relief in the area you want to help. Above all else, if you do go to help, be open to learning and listening as much as doing.
Andrea Johnson is a native Texan now living in Charlotte, N.C., with her husband and two daughters. She enjoys running, photography and good chocolate.