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How to Give Toward Earthquake Relief and Recovery

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The most effective way to support victims in the immediate aftermath of the mammoth earthquakes that hit southern Turkey and northern Syria on Feb. 6—killing more than 33,000 people—is to donate to broad humanitarian relief organizations and to groups that can direct funds to vetted local nonprofits, according to philanthropic consultants.

It’s also important to think ahead, and recognize the affected communities will be recovering from the quakes for years and will continue to need support. 

“There is so much to be done right now while the clock is ticking to save lives, and there will be so much to be done to rebuild communities and lives far, far into the future,” says Lydia Guterman, head of client service and operations at Arabella Advisors in Washington, D.C. 

Guterman and other experts note that groups such as UNICEF, Doctors Without Borders, and CARE International, among many others, have a track record of mobilizing to respond to catastrophes. They have worked in areas such as Turkey and Syria for years and know how to network with local organizations to provide aid. 

These groups often will be among those that stay long-after the news cycle has moved on, she adds. 

Another advantage of these large organizations is that they work together to avoid duplicating efforts, which can give philanthropists assurances that their non-targeted donations are being effectively deployed, says Ashlee Woods, head of philanthropy at Ascent, the ultra-high-net-worth arm of U.S. Bank Wealth Management.

Big aid groups also ensure there’s no “duplicity of effort” within their own operations, Woods says. 

Patricia McIlreavy,
president and CEO of the Center for Disaster Philanthropy, or CDP, cautions that international non-governmental organizations could potentially have to back away from direct aid to Turkey in coming weeks. 

“It’s just that normal tension” between governments and civil society, with governments preferring their own national organizations take the lead in recovery, McIlreavy says. “We should plan for the fact that they may well work to shift the international funds to national organizations as soon as possible.” 

The CDP acts as a thought leader and service provider to philanthropists who want to effectively respond to disasters, in addition to providing vehicles for direct aid. The CDP Turkey & Syria Earthquake Recovery Fund, for instance, is currently raising cash for “targeted grantmaking,” which is made in collaboration with organizations on the ground in both countries. 

The organization’s goal with all its fundraising is “local equitable recovery,” with a focus on the long-term beyond immediate disaster relief. CDP’s approach is to give communities a “moment to breathe and to say where their priorities are,” and to use its network of connections on the ground to get funds to the right organizations. 

For donors who want to make these kinds of local contributions but “are not prepared or ready to navigate who they might give it to, they can give it to us and we’ll take it that last mile,” McIlreavy says. 

Regranting groups such as CDP, Global Giving, and several others (including Catholic Relief Services, Jewish Federations of North America and Global Impact), can be an effective way for donors who are far away from a disaster site to reach local organizations. 

Guterman says her go-to is Global Giving (which also has a dedicated Turkey and Syria Earthquake Relief fund). “When disasters happen, they already have a really strong group of networked organizations that they can easily move money to, and so they’re already vetted,” she says. 

Some of these organizations may not focus on disaster, but when catastrophe strikes, all groups pitch in. “You might have an education organization or an economic empowerment organization, but basically all of those things become disaster response and community rebuilding organizations,” Guterman says. “And the folks that run local organizations, they’re not going anywhere.”

While donors often are compelled to give following a natural disaster, philanthropic experts recommend building disaster response into a broader strategy that balances their long-term goals within a desire to meet immediate needs. 

“Emergencies don’t eliminate [the] need for planning and strategy—they actually heighten it,” Woods says. “The trick is not to wait until that emergency situation is upon you as a donor.”

For many donors, the pandemic made them realize misfortune can strike anywhere and anyone. Disaster response “took on a different space in people’s strategies than maybe it had before,” McIlreavy says. 

For instance, the pandemic revealed that an unforeseen shock could have a big impact on other areas that they cared about and funded, such as education, healthcare, or the environment. That realization allowed CDP to encourage donors to “look at the aspects of what disasters your communities may be susceptible to, and how within your programming you can help them prepare for that and possibly mitigate the risks to them,” she says.

Philanthropic consultants can assist would-be donors in deciding how to put a plan in motion, but Woods recommends donors do some of the research on appropriate organizations themselves so they “have some skin in the game.” 

Her advice is also to provide unrestricted funding, so organizations can put the money to work where it’s needed most. Be mindful, she tells donors,“There’s a whole industry that does this work. So trust them.”


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