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Japan's earthquake last week was the largest in the country's recorded history, and the subsequent tsunami even more terrible in its devastation and destruction. Now the Japanese people must rebuild their communities, while mourning their dead and caring for the injured and displaced.

They will need our help. Many of us are desperate to do something, but perhaps don't know how best to assist the victims of this horrific catastrophe. What do the Japanese people need most right now? Which charities are most effective in providing relief to the region? Does Japan really need money at this particular time? These are just a few of the questions that Americans are wondering about at the moment.

What to do
Seeking answers to these questions yesterday, I spoke with Sean Milliken, who is the executive director of MissionFish, the administrator of eBay's (Nasdaq: EBAY  ) Giving Works program. Sean told me that in times of disaster, donations of goods are not helpful, as they pose additional logistical problems for the organizations on the ground. Instead, donors should offer cash, which is of paramount importance.

There are numerous ways of offering cash donations, according to Sean. First, you can find lists of leading charitable organizations on major news sites. Be sure to click on the links to the listed charities' websites in order to read more about them. You can then research your selections on Charity Navigator, a site that is devoted to intelligent giving. It will provide you with ratings and additional operational information on more than 5,000 charities.

In the table below I've provided links to some of the leading charities -- along with their ratings -- that are providing relief to Japan:

Charity Charity Navigator Overall Rating
American Red Cross 55.48
Save the Children 63.97
AmeriCares 64.49
Mercy Corps 52.66
World Vision 62.98

Source: Charity Navigator.

Sean also suggested that you might consider donating to the Network For Good, which will distribute your donation across a wide array of participating charities.

In addition to donating directly to the various charities, prospective donors can also give via other websites. eBay, (Nasdaq: AMZN  ) , Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) , Zynga, and PayPal have chosen to offer a wide variety of creative ways to support Japan relief efforts. For example, Zynga, an online provider of social games, has raised more than $1 million so far by partnering with Save the Children and allowing its players to make donations within its games. On eBay, assisted by Sean's company MissionFish, you can support a wide variety of charities through your buying and selling activities.

Finally, potential donors can give via their mobile devices. Below is a list of possible options in the U.S.:

Text Give
JAPAN to 20222 To donate $10 to Save The Children
MERCY to 25283 To donate $10 to Mercy Corps
REDCROSS to 90999 To donate $10 to American Red Cross
4JAPAN to 20222 To donate $10 to World Vision

Right time, right place?
Over the past several days, there has been a spirited online debate as to whether now is a good time to donate money to Japan. The blogger Felix Salmon, for example, argues that Japan is a wealthy country that has plenty of money to help out its citizens. Others argue that Japan needs our help during this difficult time, and that there are a lot of fine organizations out there who can provide that assistance in a timely and efficient way.

Personally, I'm a firm believer in the latter argument, and gave $250 to AmeriCares yesterday to assist with its efforts to help tsunami survivors. I've heard and read great things about that organization, and am very happy to support its work.

If you also decide to contribute to Japan relief, be sure to spend some time researching your organization, and make sure you are reasonably comfortable with it before making your donation.

Japan is a great nation, and I know that it will emerge from this crisis stronger than ever before. If anyone has additional ideas on how we might support the relief effort, feel free to share them in the comments box below.

John Reeves owns shares of Google, but none in any other company mentioned above. and eBay are Motley Fool Stock Advisor picks. The Fool owns shares of Google, which is a Motley Fool Inside Value and Motley Fool Rule Breakers recommendation. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

Read/Post Comments (23) | Recommend This Article (75)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On March 16, 2011, at 11:24 AM, jabontik wrote:

    much better lead story than "three ways to profit from this panic"

  • Report this Comment On March 16, 2011, at 11:37 AM, TMFDitty wrote:

    Thanks, John! I carry a prepaid cellphone, that I rarely use, and so always end up at the end of the year with tons of cash on my account -- which will vaporize at year-end if I don't use it.

    Texting that extra cash to a relief organization is a no-brainer.


  • Report this Comment On March 16, 2011, at 12:02 PM, KayakerRW wrote:

    Thanks. I was glad to see this as the lead article. It is important to research charities before giving. In that light, I have read that with some carriers, money that is donated by text may not actually be donated for several months.

    Since some do the text donation because it is quick, people may want to check to see how quickly their carriers donate the money.

    The issue is not whether it is donated (it is), it's just a matter of how quickly.

  • Report this Comment On March 16, 2011, at 12:03 PM, ryanalexanderson wrote:

    One of Felix's arguments - which is overshadowed by his silly blog title - was that misallocation can occur when funds are earmarked for a certain cause and therefore can't be used for other worthy causes should monetary aid no longer be required.

    Most of the big names, including the ones you listed, almost certainly have stuck in clauses allowing them to reallocate donations in such a scenario, which is a good thing. Still, it's another item that's worth checking if you go with a lesser-known charity.

  • Report this Comment On March 16, 2011, at 12:18 PM, EnigmaDude wrote:

    Excellent post. I would hope that if I were ever involved in a natural disaster (and even if I was stinkin' rich) that people would be willing to help. Japan needs all the help they can get right now.

  • Report this Comment On March 16, 2011, at 12:22 PM, NovaB wrote:

    Earthquakes aren't measured by size. They are measured by strength.

    That is as bad as Mike Bettis on The Weather Channel with his sophomoric political commentary.

    Stick with what you know. It keeps you out of trouble.

  • Report this Comment On March 16, 2011, at 12:35 PM, newageinvestor wrote:

    It was heartening to read this post after that creepy article on profiting from this disaster.

    It seems to me that Japan is going to be overwhelmed dealing with the reactor issues, and that its economy is going to take a huge hit, so actually the Japanese people in the tsunami zone will definitely need our help. We have search and rescue crews on the ground now as a matter of fact.

    Personally, I'm sticking with the Red Cross.

    Thanks again for this post. Proves that you can be an investor with a heart.

  • Report this Comment On March 16, 2011, at 12:41 PM, TMFLomax wrote:

    Thanks for writing this, John. Given a catastrophic crisis like the ongoing one in Japan, it's important, I think particularly to us Fools, to first do our best to avoid scam organizations and even better, to find the best organizations to donate to, which will be effective and efficient with the donated funds. I'm so glad you wrote a good piece that helps people identify the best organizations.


  • Report this Comment On March 16, 2011, at 1:07 PM, TMFMileHigh wrote:


    Thanks for writing this. It's a good reminder that Foolanthropy isn't just something we do during the holidays.

    FWIW, Fools may also consider donating their miles or other affinity points to the relief effort. Hilton is allowing those who have HHonors points to contribute in increments of 10,000. Details:

    Foolish best,

    Tim (TMFMileHigh and @milehighfool on Twitter)

  • Report this Comment On March 16, 2011, at 1:12 PM, snjolly wrote:

    pls remember - that if you decide to donate via texting, it is said it takes up to 90 days to process at the phone company level, before it is re-directed to the support effort. it may not be the most efficient way to donate, as there is much need now.

    that said, what we must remember, is that the need - like Haiti, as in SE Asia after 2004 tsunami, the need lasts much longer after the press coverage goes away.

    i plan to donate in increments over a longer period of time, but also plan to donate in a way that the organization can have access to funds as soon as possible.

  • Report this Comment On March 16, 2011, at 1:15 PM, TMFBane wrote:

    Thanks, everyone, for all of your thoughtful and helpful comments! The comments section alone will be a great source of information for everyone. Keep the comments coming!

  • Report this Comment On March 16, 2011, at 1:49 PM, BruceInCola wrote:

    I would bet that in terms of cash for disaster relief, Haiti still needs our donations more than Japan right now. According to our own Red Cross officials, Japan has one of, if not the top disaster preparedness systems in the world, and the Japanese central bank just issued about US$800 billion in funds to deal with the catastrophe.

    While I also feel like I need and want to do SOMEthing for the Japanese people that are suffering, I am not sure cash is going to help at this point, in this situation.

  • Report this Comment On March 16, 2011, at 2:02 PM, Mariposa110 wrote:

    Thank you, every one. The area hit by this disaster is a very poor area whose primary industries are traditional agriculture and fishing. People there are poor unlike those in the big cities such as Tokyo, Osaka, Kobe, etc. Their work rarely gets spot-light in the history, but the economic growth in Japan in the past 100 years cannot be told without their work.

    Many cities have been destroyed and we still do not have the final number of the damage. I, as Japanese, thank those who have donated already. If you have not, please do so. Also, I ask everyone to encourage your family, friends, co-workers, neighbors, to help Japan.

    Thank you, again.

  • Report this Comment On March 16, 2011, at 3:12 PM, GreyedOut wrote:

    I simply went direct to the Japanese Red Cross Society. I feel they know best where and how to spend funds donated.

    The easy way is to go to and click on "Resources related to the crisis in Japan and ways to help" That opens a page where you can enter an amount in Japanese Yen, (between 80-81 Yen to the Dollar), and complete the donation using Google Checkout.

    You can also wire transfer direct using this link:

  • Report this Comment On March 16, 2011, at 4:55 PM, idanp wrote:

    Very important article!

    I have chosen the following paypal link:


    Idan from Israel

  • Report this Comment On March 16, 2011, at 5:52 PM, ScubaStClaire wrote:

    Also when donating - check to see if your employer provides matching contributions. A great way to increase the value of your own charitable giving.

  • Report this Comment On March 16, 2011, at 10:25 PM, snapperreef wrote:

    I wonder if we may be doing an injustice to the Japanese people. Only in some 3rd world countries and parts of America like New Orleans are the citizens unable to take care of themselves. On the Gulf Coast people are still whining and gnashing their teeth for BP Oil spill bones to be tossed their way. I have had hurricane damage and destruction before; I did not ask for any help to repair my home nor did I expect any.

    A proud people like the Japanese are already busy taking the necessary steps to rebuild their country.

    In addition, at the end of fiscal year 2010 Japan held 19.9% of the $4.324 Trillion part of our then national debt held by foreign entities or $860 billion. that's almost $1 trillion. I'm sure some of that debt can be converted to cash.

    Are we too willing and ready to toss money at problems in hopes of fixing them? Why wouldn't it be better to wait till the Japanese Government asked our citizens through it's diplomatic channels to help with cash donations?

  • Report this Comment On March 17, 2011, at 11:28 AM, TMFKris wrote:

    People who want to help but are uncomfortable for whatever reason with donating to Japan-focused groups right now, can also always donate to local organizations that help people in their communities. Certainly disasters on this scale do not happen every day, but there are always people in need facing their own losses and needs.

    Kris - TMF copy editor

  • Report this Comment On March 17, 2011, at 3:33 PM, chuckbreaux wrote:

    Another giving consideration for those who participate in organized religion are their associated charitable relief organizations. For example, as a Lutheran, I am donating to ELCA Disaster Response.

  • Report this Comment On March 19, 2011, at 9:43 PM, WhidbeyIsland wrote:

    The amount of suffering and need in the world always surpasses all the resources and donations available. Any action/donation that assists those in need anywhere in the world is commendable.

    I am making a donation to the Red Cross and telling them to use it as they se fit..

    My appreciation to those who are assisting, wherever you are helping and whomever you are helping.

  • Report this Comment On March 25, 2011, at 12:32 PM, SocialRespInvest wrote:

    Thank you for asking us to take a moment to reflect on how we can help.

    I have been at a loss, because what the Japanese want and need most profoundly, to have their lives restored, their loved ones returned, their air pure, are beyond anyone's power to give them.

    But that the Japan Society in New York is participating in a fundraiser tells me that as wealthy as Japan is it does need emergency financial help right now. Mercy Corps, for example, is asking for donations that they will share with a Japanese partner that usually works with Mercy Corps to help people in other countries.

  • Report this Comment On March 26, 2011, at 8:55 AM, SaharaSarah wrote:

    I have worked in the humanitarian sector for several years, including as an aid worker in Congo and Niger. What I am about to say is by no means to downplay the tragedy in Japan, but there are places that are more in need of donations - by a country mile. Not only is the Japanese government highly capable of responding, they will be restricting the way that aid money is spent and who will be providing assistance, and rightly so as this is their country. I can't imagine that the people of New Orleans would have been comfortable if charities from Japan showed up to provide psycho-social care to American children after Katrina. I'm very uncomfortable with aid agencies appealing for money for Japan when other places have such greater needs, and when the Japanese government has asked for this to happen. Niger has crisis-like indicators in a good year when you look at under 5 mortality rates, malnutrition, etc. Cote d'Ivoire will likely result in widespread displacement and potentially civil war. I just got back from Haiti, which has a few billion for humanitarian aid and reconstruction, and a government that is woefully inadequate for the task no matter how much money is there. The best thing that you can do is to provide an unrestricted donation to a charity that you respect, this will enable them to make decisions about the places that need it most.

  • Report this Comment On March 26, 2011, at 8:58 AM, SaharaSarah wrote:

    Small correction - I meant to say 'when the government of Japan hasn't asked for this to happen'.

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John Reeves

John is a senior editor focusing on investigations and financial reform. He's been with the Fool for almost ten years.

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