If there is any lesson to be learned about how to donate to international disasters, it is this: don’t give your money when you first see the disaster splashed across TV. 

To ensure the rebuilding effort survives over the long term, donors need to stagger their funding and guarantee it over many years, instead of sending the money all at once.

Yes, as hard as it may be to watch the dying and pain on our news, realize that money is not the impediment to getting aid to Haiti right now.  They need military and security forces to help organize rescue, logistics and transport and security operations.

What your money can do is help the long-term food and medical aid necessary while rebuilding takes place.  It will be a rebuilding that will take years, if not decades.

Case in point: the Balkan war left some 150,000 dead and half of the country homeless. Responding to the shocking situation, donors around the world poured an astounding amount of money into it. More than $5 billion was injected into Bosnia alone—almost $1000 for each of the country’s 4.5 million people. 

“No central coordinating body recorded, kept track of, or disbursed the aid. Donors did not communicate with one another, and sometimes double-funded projects or funded similar projects in the same town. In some instances, donors turned a blind eye to financial abuses,” it was later reported.  (Stanford Social Innovation Review, “Balkan Boom to Bust,” Beth Kampschror, Summer 2006)

Ten years later, look at Bosnia, when most of the aid money was dried up and the donors were engaged by other causes, there are few agencies left to continue the rebuilding. 

For Haiti, my advice is this: set aside money now for what you would give Haiti this year and for at least the next 3 years.  Give money when aid can logistically get there, when efforts get coordinated, when you can get reports on which nonprofits are doing what and which ones are actually on the ground making an impact. 

To share your knowledge of disaster aid organizations working in Haiti, or see other people’s reviews of these organizations, see www.greatnonprofits.org/haiti.