Japan Earthquake and Tsunami: How To Help
A 9-magnitude earthquake struck Japan north of Tokyo on March 11. It resulted in a devastating tsunami which caused significant damage in coastal towns. Current estimates put the death toll and the missing at 20,000. More than 800,000 homes were destroyed. The estimated $300 billion damage from the quake and tsunami makes this the world's costliest natural disaster.
There are various opinions on whether or not it is advisable to give for Japan quake and tsunami relief efforts. At Charity Navigator, we think the scope of the disaster is so great, that the charities that are already involved, and those that will become involved, will play a vital role in the relief effort. There will be significant costs associated with those efforts.
As you decide what is right for you, please keep in mind the following:
- We are only including charities on the list to the right that are 3 and 4-star charities and that have responded to our request for more information about their efforts in Japan and their plans for designated funds.
- Some of the charities listed here are not committing to spending all of the money they raise now for their efforts in Japan. As the situation continues to unfold, many charities are yet unsure if they will raise more than they need and therefore will want to use the donations instead for future disasters and/or their work in other parts of the world. If the charity has clearly indicated to us, and on their website, that they are committed to using Japan quake/tsunami restricted funds only for those purposes, then we have indicated that as a ‘yes’ in the last column in the table to the right. All the charities with ‘no’ responses either were not entirely clear on this point, or they were accepting designated gifts with the caveat that ‘excess’ funds may be used elsewhere (such as American Red Cross), or they were not accepting designated gifts at all preferring to ask donors to contribute to their work in responding to any and all disasters (as in the case of National Disaster Search Dog Foundation).
- Felix Salmon of Reuters suggests that if you are inspired to give because of the tragedy in Japan, then make an unrestricted gift. You can read his article here. FoxNews Channel also picked up this debate which you can watch here.
If you decide to give, then please consult our giving tips listed below.
- Avoid Newly-Formed Charities and Give To An Established Charity That Has Worked In Japan - Establishing a new charity is hard enough, but in a crisis, the odds of succeeding are slim to none. Think of it this way: would you entrust all your savings in a financial firm that just opened, doesn't even have stationery, and whose employees have no experience in investing money? Doubtful. Find a charity with a proven track record of success in providing disaster relief on a massive scale and one that has worked in Japan and the other impacted regions. Start with the list of charities on the right and if a group you are considering supporting isn’t there, then take the time to thoroughly research it before making a gift.
- Designate Your Investment – Generally, it is best to trust your chosen charity to spend your donation as it sees fit. But with disaster related giving, you may choose to specify that you want your donation only used to respond to this particular crisis.
- Do Not Send Supplies – Knowing that people are desperately in need of food and water, it is hard not to want to pack up a box of supplies and send it to Japan. But this type of philanthropy is simply not practical or efficient. Even if mail could get to an impacted region, no one is set up to receive these goods, much less organize and distribute them to the victims. Furthermore, charities are often able to partner with companies to acquire large amounts of in-kind donations such as bottled water and new clothing. Instead of boxing up and sending your old clothing, have a garage sale and turn your used goods into cash and donate that to a worthy charity.
Be Careful Of Email Solicitations
- Be Leery Of People That Contact You Online Claiming To Be A Victim – Unless you personally know someone in Japan, anyone alleging to be in this position is most likely part of a scam. Obviously, people affected by the earthquake and tsunami are in no position to contact you directly for assistance.
- Delete Unsolicited Emails With Attachments - Never respond to unsolicited emails. Do not open any attachments to these emails even if they claim to contain pictures from Japan. These attachments are probably viruses.
- Seek Out The Charity’s Authorized Website – Criminals are likely to set up bogus sites to steal the identity and money of generous and unsuspecting individuals. We saw this after Hurricane Katrina when the FBI reported that 4,000 sites were created to do just that. So, if you plan to give online, be sure to find the charity’s legitimate site. You can safely give on Charity Navigator’s site via our partnership with Network for Good. Alternatively, we link to each charity’s authorized site so you can give there if you prefer.
- Think before you text - So long as you do your homework – meaning that you’ve vetted the charity and made sure that you are using the proper texting instructions- then texting can be a great way to give. Remember there may be additional costs to you to make such a gift. And it can take as much as 90 days for the charity to receive the funds.
- Consider The Nature Of The Charity’s Work – Not every charity is responding in the same way. Some are providing medical assistance, some shelter, some food and water. Others will be more focused on either short term or long term rebuilding efforts. And some are just helping to fundraise for other nonprofits. Think about what it is you want your philanthropic investment to accomplish and then take the time to find the charities doing that work. At Charity Navigator we link to each charity’s website so that you can quickly learn more about their plans to help.
- Be Inspired By Social Media, But Still Do Your Homework – Social networking tools like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and blogs are delivering heart-wrenching images and information about the earthquake and tsunami to our computers and phones. Many of them include pleas to donate. While these tools can be a powerful tool to inspire your desire to help, you should not blindly give via these vehicles. You must take the time to investigate the groups behind such pleas for help to ensure that it comes from a legitimate nonprofit.
- Avoid Telemarketers – As always, hang up the phone do your homework and give directly to a charity.
- Do Not Expect Immediate Results, But Do Keep Tabs On What Your Donation Accomplishes- It takes time for charities to mobilize, to assess the problems that need to be addressed and to develop effective solutions. Donors need to be patient so charities will not feel pressured to plunge in and offer ineffective aid, simply to placate impatient donors. That doesn't mean donors shouldn't hold the charities accountable for delivering on their promises! Be sure to follow up with the charity in a few months to find out (a) how your donation was put to use and (b) if the organization needs additional support to complete the recovery effort.