The harrowing images and reports from Haiti’s 7.0 magnitude earthquake and 6.1 magnitude aftershock have inspired many people to give generously, and small businesses are, of course, no different. But before you make any decisions about sending aid, you should consider the following guidelines for how you can be of most help right now.
The bottom line is money.
“Cash has the greatest impact on helping Haitians,” says Joshua Berkman, a spokesperson for the American Jewish World Service, a non-profit in New York working with grassroots organizations in Haiti to bring in donated money. The best way for businesses and individuals to be a helpful part of the Caribbean nation’s recovery is to donate funds to appropriate organizations who are working with skilled medics, engineers and NGO professionals. With money, these organizations can procure the supplies needed and get it to the people who need it most efficiently. After things stabilize and progress, there can be a discussion on donating goods and volunteering on-site.
Choose a reputable organization.
There is an overwhelming amount of information on the Internet and in news reports about the various charities accepting donations, so it’s up to you and your small business to decide where your money goes.
Charity Navigator, an online evaluator examines the financial responsibility of American non-profit organizations and rates the charities on a numbers-based rating system. Visitors can page through an organization’s tax forms to examine how trustworthy the organization is. The Institute of Philanthropy and the Better Business Bureau have rating systems as well. Major media outlets like CNN and The New York Times also implement their own vetting practices before listing and recommending charities.
Read carefully through the organization’s website.
Just as you’d research a business or client you are planning to collaborate with, research the organization you're donating to. “Ask how will your money be distributed,” says Berkman.
“You want to make sure that you are donating to an organization where at least 80% of the money goes to the issue and 20% goes to overhead,” says Berkman. “That is an industry acceptable ratio. AJWS is donating 95% directly to Haiti and has 5% for overhead.”
Of course, patience is important right now with the epic damage to Haiti. Berkman adds, “Remember a lot of it is fluid and will continue to be, as needs are being assessed. Financial details aren’t necessarily going to be readily available for Haiti.”
Be aware of restricted vs. non-restricted money.
Look for clear and clean language that explains your donation's destination.
Restricted money is specifically earmarked for a certain issue. If an organization designates that the money is for Haiti, you can trust that the money is restricted for Haiti relief. The staff will use their resources and expertise to determine where the money goes. Unrestricted money is money donated to an organization where it can be used however it wants. That means the money may be allocated for overhead and future fundraising endeavors. Make sure your donation is going exactly where you want it to go.
Don’t send material donations.
In many situations, every little bit counts -- from warm blankets to toiletries. Because of the current emergency state in Haiti, this is not the case.
“Small quantities can complicate things right now in Haiti because there are limited ways to get products into the country. It’s simply better to donate money for organizations that have the relationships and experience to procure materials,” says Berkman. “
Even the best of intentions can cause problems. It’s difficult and time-consuming for an organization on the ground to open random boxes from around the world, check the condition of the donations, and then figure out where and how to distribute the goods during the aftermath of an earthquake.
You are a company that actually produces something that relief work experts have expressed is needed. If so, donating the product on a large scale is very welcomed. Check that your business’ product fits the bill at The Center for International Disaster. The site lists the specific needs requested by experienced professionals who best understand the situation in Haiti.
Donate materials to U.S. non-profits helping Haiti.
Contact the non-profit you will be sending money to and ask them what they need more of outside the field to work more efficiently. For example: “We always could use more satellite phones to reach grantees out on the sites,” Berkman says.
Small businesses producing IT products can contribute in specific ways. Software suites that assist in fundraising are useful; web design and consulting for organizations that have had to reconfigure their websites completely for a sudden catastrophe like Haiti are also needed. The Center for International Disaster is good for verifying non-profit needs.
Wait before using your vacation days to book a flight to Haiti.
“This isn’t the time to be a passionate volunteer in Haiti,” says Berkman. “People have great intentions but unless you have a specific skill in high demand it’s best to stay home and send money. Right now it is about people who can save lives.”
If you have a skill that happens to be needed, again, use The Center for International Disaster as a guide for finding the right organization to contact and offer your services.
Take advantage of your tax benefits for charitable donations.
Making your charitable donation a tax write-off doesn’t mean you are greedy -- it means you are smart. The IRS, however, does have a limit on giving. In most cases, deductions cannot exceed 50% of adjusted gross income. But, if your business is so generous that it tops 50%, the excess can be carried forward for up to five years.
Your small business should consider all of these elements when deciding how to donate to make sure those in need benefit the most from your help.