Best Ways to Help After Natural Disasters

How to make sure your good intentions make a difference

Reading about natural disasters—whether they are in your region of the world or thousands of miles away—can be heartbreaking. Many of us feel the desire to help, but we are not sure where to begin. What can you do that can truly make a difference and improve the lives of the victims?

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is the federal organization that steps in when natural disasters occur in the U.S., but the help of ordinary people can make a huge impact too. The FEMA website offers suggestions on ways you can help those affected by natural disasters. Think about these pointers as you decide what to do:

1. The #1 way to help is to donate money
For any type of natural disaster where people are injured and infrastructure is damaged, there is always the need for money. (Other forms of help—like donated goods—are actually harder for relief workers to manage, because there might be issues with sorting them and transporting them to where they are needed.) If you are able to make a monetary donation, be sure to research the organization you are donating to, to make sure you are comfortable with how they handle their funds. You can look up charity organizations on Charity Navigator to see how they rate.

2. Pool your resources
If you are low on funds and can only donate a small amount of money, then another great way to help is to organize your friends, family, and coworkers to donate. If you can get everyone to donate even just a little money, the total amount could be significant, and your efforts will make a bigger difference.

3. Arrange a fundraiser in your community
Do you belong to a place of worship? Is there a PTO organization at your children’s school? Do you belong to a community group? These types of organizations are great ways to gather a group of people who are willing to hold a fundraiser to support the disaster victims. If you talk to the leaders of the organization, they may be able to help you get something started. Ideas for raising money might be a community-wide yard sale, a bake sale, a walk-a-thon, or a local concert.

4. Donate blood if it is needed
Depending on the disaster that occurred, sometimes the American Red Cross may advertise that there is a greater need for blood donations, to help the victims recover. If so, consider donating blood. According to the Red Cross, just one pint of blood can save three lives.

5. See if you can volunteer to help
Wanting to volunteer is a great thing, but during the disaster and in the immediate aftermath of the disaster, volunteers can sometimes “get in the way” of the experienced relief workers. (In other words, it is not a good idea to just show up on your own.) However, as cleanup and reconstruction begin, there may be more opportunities to help. To be a helpful volunteer, contact a relief organization first to see if your skills are something they could use. This is the best way to truly help where help is needed.

6. Don’t forget about the disaster in the months ahead
The media coverage right after a natural disaster can help to raise everyone’s awareness of the disaster and motivate a lot of us to donate. But once the cameras are gone, we tend to forget that the victims are still recovering and rebuilding. One way to help with sustained relief is to find a relief organization you believe in and become a monthly contributor. This way you know you are still helping people throughout the recovery period. Also, if you do not restrict your donation, the organization can use it wherever it is most needed.

7. Be careful about donating items
Donations drives for food, water, and clothing sound like a great idea, but sometimes the relief workers don’t have the resources to sort the donations and deliver them where they’re needed. The donated items can actually get in the way of progress. So, before you organize a drive, be sure to contact a relief organization to find out exactly what is needed. If they say they are not accepting donated items, don’t be offended. They are just trying to do what is best for the people affected by the disaster.

We hope these tips have helped you see the ways you can make an impact. Donating your time and money is such a generous thing to do. Your efforts will be appreciated!