More to Do in Haiti – Lots More

From Mariana Nissen/UNDP via Creative Commons

Economists with the Inter-American Development Bank estimate that the full cost of rebuilding in Haiti may come close to $14 billion — making the January 12 earthquake the most destructive in modern history. A sad superlative to see applied anywhere in the world, but especially bitter for a country already struggling with poverty, ecological deterioration, and political turmoil.

A month after the earthquake, a giant recovery effort is underway. Assistance has come from governments, organizations and individuals in every part of the globe. On February 18, five weeks after the disaster, the Chronicle of Philanthropy reported U.S. organizations working on relief and reconstruction had received $774 million in charitable donations. Large amounts of private and governmental assistance have come to Haiti from many other countries as well.

Pathways to volunteer to help with the recovery are becoming clearer; Idealist’s Erin Barnhart offered a round-up here recently. For businesses and individuals with the capacity to offer in-kind donations that might be useful, there’s a long list of needs compiled from requests by nonprofits at work in Haiti.

Many knowledgeable voices urge, though, that the absolute best way to help the recovery efforts is to donate cash to an organization with the capacity to put your money to work immediately on high priority needs in Haiti. The United States Better Business Bureau has advice about what to look for (and what to look out for) when thinking about helping with a cash donation, along with a list of organizations that meet the BBB standards of accountability and are already at work in Haiti.

One final note: If you haven’t prepared your tax return yet and are considering itemizing deductions, a special rule will allow including donations made for Haiti relief during 2010 on the return due April 15th — but only if the donations are made before March 1st (the IRS explanation is here). Of course, any qualifying donation made now can be deducted on Schedule A in 2011, so this is not an all or nothing deal…just a little extra nudge.

[This blog entry appeared on an older version of Idealist; any broken links are a result of having re-launched our site in Fall 2010.]

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Helping Haiti: Things to Consider

This post has three sections: Donations; Volunteering Locally to Support Efforts in Haiti; and Volunteering in Haiti. Idealist staff Jeremy MacKechnie, Amy Potthast, Erin Barnhart, Eric Fichtl, Scott Stadum, and Julia Smith contributed.

The outpouring of support for the victims of Tuesday’s natural disaster in Haiti has been overwhelming. As we look for ways to help, there are a few things to keep in mind.


From news reports and our organizational contacts, it seems the logistics of sending aid and support to Haiti is compromised by electrical outages, gas shortages, and destroyed roads. Most organizations have sent small teams of staff and are assessing needs on-the-ground at this point.

As our Director of Volunteerism Initiatives, Erin Barnhart, wrote on YP Nation yesterday: While many are willing and able to volunteer today—ready to hop on a plane to Port-au-Prince and lend a hand however they are needed—the reality is there may not yet be appropriate ways for most people to pitch in, especially in the days immediately following a disaster of this magnitude.

Thus, the fastest and most efficient way to assist disaster victims at this time is to donate money to a reputable charity that is responding to the disaster. Many charities like the Red Cross/Red Crescent, Mercy Corps, and Oxfam specialize in providing relief in acute disaster areas, yet they face significant financial barriers to getting their staff, equipment, and supplies to the affected regions. Other organizations like Partners in Health, UNICEF, and the Grameen Foundation have a long history in Haiti and are positioned to make a huge impact in the aftermath of this week’s disaster. Find other organizations supporting Haiti relief efforts on or at Network for Good.

Your donation, no matter how small, helps put experienced disaster responders on the ground, and gives them the tools they need to help victims recover. Be sure that you are taking precautions to donate to a reputable organization. You may want to review this article on internet scams that have arisen surrounding the tragedy in Haiti.

Note that organizations are asking for financial donations—not supplies—because they prefer to purchase exactly what they need from secure supply chains, using delivery means that can ensure the safety of the shipment. Where possible, purchasing materials available locally is also a boon to the local economy in the wake of a natural disaster. Read more about why cash donations are preferred.

Some organizations have organized text messaging donation drives: you can text “Haiti” to 90999 to donate $10 to the Red Cross; text “Yele” to 501501 to donate $5 to Yele; or text “HAITI” to 25383 to donate $5 to the International Rescue Committee. Organizations should send you a text to confirm that you want to donate, and if you accept, the amount will appear on your next cell phone bill — which you can use as your receipt for tax purposes. These have been very popular and successful; however, it is worth considering that the money may take up to 90 days to reach the people and efforts on the ground, as there are processed through the cell phone company and possibly other parties. Read more here.

Volunteering Locally to Support Efforts in Haiti

If you are not in a financial position to donate, you can still help the relief effort in a variety of ways, often right in your own community. Most organizations don’t want to receive supplies such as clothing, but you can post a donation banner for an organization you support on your blog or website, volunteer at the local office of a charity that has sent staff to the affected area, or organize initiatives in your community that raise awareness about, and funding for, the relief effort.

Such efforts shouldn’t be downplayed: raising money, spreading awareness, or lobbying community leaders to support the relief effort can all generate tangible results for disaster victims. Check out our section on DIY volunteering for tips on how to create your own volunteer project, or visit Idealist in NYC for a list of drives and events being organized in New York City.

Volunteering in Haiti

If you are mainly interested in volunteering on the ground in Haiti right now:

  • Please be patient. Volunteer managers are likely overwhelmed by the outpouring of goodwill and may be unprepared to receive the numbers of people stepping forward to help out. It will take a long time for Haiti to dig out from this disaster, and the long-term volunteering needs will become more apparent as the months (and years) pass. We recommend that you continue to check over the coming weeks and months for these kinds of opportunities. You can search for volunteer opportunities on the site by clicking on Find Volunteer Opportunities, and/or read more about Disaster Relief Volunteering.
  • [UPDATE] As far as we know, Partners in Health and Doctors Without Borders are faced with long waiting lists of physicians who want to travel to Haiti. They ask that you please consider a monetary donation for now instead.
  • Volunteers with “needed skills” can also register for possible volunteer positions at the Center for International Disaster Information’s registration page.

[This blog entry first appeared on an older version of Idealist; any broken links are a result of having re-launched our site in Fall 2010.]

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Do A Little Bit More: Kids Making a Difference (in Just a Few Days)

Family photo of Annie R,

We weren’t the first to think that a world where lots of people do a little bit more would be a better place to live. And we won’t be the last.

(But since you’re reading this now, we invite you to join in to “Do a Little Bit More” — especially during this time when support for community is needed so badly in every part of the world. And let us know what you come up with. You can comment on this post if you’re logged into Idealist, or send email to

A month or so ago, my neighbor Annie R.—a 7th grader—was restless and pesky. Her mom said to her “why don’t you just do something, instead of hanging around here complaining that you’re bored?” So Annie decided to put flyers on her neighbors’ steps asking for usable clothes that kids in foster care might want to wear. The result was, well, very satisfying. About half the households contributed something — from a lovely yellow duck wearing a cheerful hat to new outfits for third and fourth graders still on the store-bought hangers. Annie guesses that there’s something in her haul for “maybe 100 kids, I don’t know for sure.” In the picture, she’s on her porch swing with some of the clothes she collected. Last Saturday she and her mom packed the donations into the car and carried them to Treehouse where staff and volunteers can sort out which kid fits into which of all these new and new-ish items of clothing that Annie and her neighbors contributed.

Online kids are finding ways to do a little bit more too. Consider 25 Days to Make a Difference where Laura started something big by pledging to do something every day in December while saving her allowance that month toward a year-end donation. This month she’s working up to a Blog Carnival on March 31st to help Special Olympics’ campaign “Spread the Word to End the Word” that’s focused on the end of March. (You can read about that campaign at

Laura and her blog have been receiving a lot of favorable attention. But more to the point, she’s giving us all ideas about ways that we could be doing just a little bit more. When better than….now?

[This blog entry appeared on an older version of Idealist; any broken links are a result of having re-launched our site in Fall 2010.]

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