The 7.0-magnitude earthquake that hit Haiti on January 12, 2010, killed an estimated 230,000 people—equivalent to the metro population of the Greater Portland Area. (Photo courtesy of AP Photo/Ricardo Arduengo)

“We are so powerless,” she said. “It is like bobbing along on the waves of the ocean, waiting to be saved.”  Sandra Félicien, a survivor of the 2010 Haiti earthquake, bravely shared her testimony with the Guardian, a UK news outlet, in January 2011, shortly after one of the worst natural disasters of the decade. We all know that emergency response is vital to the restoration of communities battling with the effects of natural disasters and that it is critical to helping people like Sandra feel that they are finally rescued and on their way to recovery. And yet, it’s hard to determine which of these nonprofits are really doing the most good.

In 2005, activist Wyclef Jean, a native of Haiti, formed the Yéle Haiti Foundation to provide general humanitarian aid to Haitians. Though positioned at the forefront of the 2010 hurricane relief efforts, according to the New York Post, Jean’s foundation failed to achieve its mission. Less than a third of the $16 million in charitable donations it collected actually went to recovery efforts, leaving millions of donors frustrated and feeling helpless.

Disaster relief and recovery efforts are one of the most popular issues to which individual donors contribute. The Red Cross’ efforts to raise money for Haiti relief raised $20 million through text messages alone, according to the State Department as reported to Mashable. And in an economy where jobs are scarce and money is tight, people want to make sure that their hard-earned dollars are going as far as possible and making a difference to the causes they care about. A few years ago Hope Consulting conducted researched called “Money for Good”. Hope surveyed 4,000 affluent Americans to examine their motivations for giving to charitable causes. It found that, above all else, donors really care about impact. So how can we be sure that our money is indeed going to the right places? My organization, Philanthropedia, a division of GuideStar, created a methodology for identifying the highest-performing nonprofits in specific cause areas.

Our methodology includes surveying field experts, including foundation professionals, academics, researchers, nonprofit senior staff, policy makers, and other professionals working in the cause, as well as respected organizations in that field, including research institutions, think tanks, government agencies, and consultants, all who have experience in the sector and know what characteristics a nonprofit needs to possess in order to have the most impact. These experts then recommend the top nonprofits based on their evidence of impact, organizational strengths, and areas of improvement.

For the cause area of international emergency response, we asked experts working in the field to recommend up to three nonprofits doing high-impact work across multiple countries or regions, and up to three nonprofits doing high-impact work in a specific country or region, because we wanted to be able to highlight both large- and small-scale nonprofits that do disaster relief work. We included both natural and man-made disasters (war displacement disasters), because the response, preparation, and recovery efforts are very similar for both disaster types. We also ask experts to identify nonprofits working in both slow and fast onset of disasters. Recommended nonprofits could work in one or more of the following areas: health, food, shelter, water, sanitation, security, medicine, non-food items (pots, pans, water containers, etc.), technical assistance, and other areas.

Our research revealed that the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement—composed of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and the 187 individual National Societies including the American Red Cross—had the most impact among its peers. The group is dedicated to preventing and alleviating human suffering in warfare and in emergencies such as epidemics, floods and earthquakes. One expert said about the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement teams, “They have life-saving impact in acute emergencies. They have high quality nutrition and health programs.”  Another remarked, “They have an exceptional data-driven approach to evaluating their own work.”

Below is the rest of our list of the top high-impact organizations working in the field of international emergency response. My hope is that you are able to use our research to make more confident donation decisions when giving to this mission. You can also find our rankings of other causes at


No one wants to donate blindly. However, the chaos of devastating natural disasters, such as the Haiti Earthquake and Hurricane Katrina, has the potential to blur our judgment. We all want to help, and we want to help now. Taking a few minutes to research before you donate ensures that you are giving wisely and getting the most out of your dollars.