August 29, 2006
By Jeff Diamant
A year ago today, Americans signed checks and clicked on Web sites to raise an estimated $4.2 billion in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the most they have ever donated in response to a natural disaster, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy.
The worst U.S. natural disaster in the Internet age offered a model for how donors might respond to future catastrophes: increasingly online and to the largest, most established charities.
Amid the slew of charities and foundations publicizing their post-hurricane efforts, the American Red Cross collected the most: at least $2.1 billion, or about half of the total collected in the United States, the chronicle reported.
Other big charities collected large amounts, according to the chronicle: the Salvation Army, $363 million; Catholic Charities USA, $146 million; the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund, $129 million; and Habitat for Humanity International, $123 million.
The Red Cross was able to outdo them and smaller charities because of its renown and its more sophisticated Internet presence, said Trent Stamp, executive director of the Charity Navigator, which rates charities and is based in Mahwah.
"The Red Cross has that old rigid reputation," Stamp said. "They've been around millions of years. But in terms of being Web-savvy, they're as smart as it comes. ... They had partnerships with all the major online portals -- AOL, Yahoo, MSN -- that other charities didn't have."
"When donations started flowing in at record rates, a lot of smaller Web sites not as technologically savvy were having sites crashed. People weren't going to come back to finish their donation. The Red Cross had their site in place," he added.
Usually about 10 to 15 percent of donors contribute online, but for Katrina that figure was 20 percent, Stamp said. And because Internet donors give more, on average, their contributions made up 35 percent of the total given.
"People were trying to act as quickly as they possibly could," Stamp said. "It was an 'impulse give' in a lot of ways. A lot of these organizations, their telephone lines were not equipped to handle people who were trying to make the phone calls. And the Internet stays open 24 hours."
Americans' private donations for the three disasters from December 2004 through 2005 -- the tsunami in Southeast Asia, the earthquake in Pakistan, and Katrina -- tallied about $7 billion, making up about 3 percent of the record $260billion Americans gave to nonprofit corporations last year, according to the Giving USA Foundation.
The amount was up 6 percent from 2004, when Americans gave $245billion, said Richard Jolly, chairman of Giving USA. In 2000, Americans gave $203billion.
The donations for Katrina made up a small portion -- less than 4 percent -- of the total given so far to help rebuild the Gulf Coast region. The federal government has spent more than $110 billion, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy.