is it better to donate to individuals or organizations?

Giving directly to individuals or to communities removes a lot of bureaucratic overhead.  But sometimes NGOs (non-governmental organizations) have expertise and resources that are necessary — or at least helpful in order to spend money well.  NPR’s Planet Money podcast recently looked at two cases of direct donations in Haiti. In one case direct donations to a community cause (school improvement) ended disastrously, but in another case (donations to a savvy wholesaler who’d been supporting her family for years before the earthquake), it seems as if an organization would have only gotten in the way of a mostly very good thing. In both cases, the results were complex and interesting.

Here’s the most recent report on all these cases: What your $3000 bought in Haiti.  This podcast summarizes and refers back to these earlier ones:

How foreign aid is hurting Haitian farmers: the initial description of the community that needed school improvement, prior to donations

Small business, big debts in Haiti: the initial description of Yvrose Jean Baptiste, wholesaler of chicken necks and other parts

For $3860, a new life: the follow up to the Yvrose story, post-donations

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donation by text message

In the wake of the Haiti tragedy, a number of organizations have set up earthquake relief funds that have encouraged donations of $5 or $10 by text message.  The American Red Cross campaign has been the most publicized of these, having surpassed $20 million in SMS donations from the U.S. in the first five days (here are the current totals, broken down by state).  Other organizations accepting donations include Yele Haiti, the Clinton Foundation, the International Rescue Fund, and the International Medical Corps (details on how to donate to each here).

If you plan to donate $30 or less to the Haiti efforts, is SMS a good way to do so (mobile donors are allowed to donate more than once, up to $30 per campaign depending on your mobile carrier)?  The answer seems to be a qualified yes — it’s not a bad way to donate, at least if you’re donating to the Red Cross, and if you’re intent on donating to Haiti specifically.  Other organizations are more questionable as to their effectiveness (especially Yele Haiti), and earmarking funds (for Haiti or any disaster zone) is also possibly not the best idea.

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