The speed and content of news delivery has greatly affected charitable giving. Even if we are on the other side of the country, a mudslide in rural Washington state is figuratively right in our living room or smartphone just minutes after it happened, with images, data, and interviews with people on the scene. It is a little more than a week since the tragic Oso mudslide and, at least for me, grief has been growing with the reports of devastation, and as the number of dead and missing hits 40. This tragedy will be felt in that community for years, if not decades, to come.

Mudslide Worker

Lisa Bishop and her Northwest Disaster Search Dog, Cody, in Oso, Wash. Source: Flickr user: TheNationalGuard..

What can we do? We want to to help the recovery efforts and support the stunned survivors. Since even distant tragedies can be reported so vividly in real time, charitable donations tend to be made by a huge number of people very quickly. What is a skillful way for you to respond to make the greatest difference?

First of all, I would hope you have a charitable giving plan that can inform the amount and form your contribution might take. A good plan usually has categories of giving, one of which might be "responsive giving" to unanticipated events such as the mudslide. For people close to the mudslide area, consider getting personally involved; this will help enrich your understanding and inform your giving. Whether near or far from Washington, here are some tips to ensure your donations have the impact you hope for:

  • Don't rush. Even though you may be compelled to action today, recovery teams and survivors will need support for a long time. Take your time to be diligent before you send money.
  • Go local. Folks at the local level can more accurately assess the needs and leverage local partnerships to make the most difference. This does not mean that giving through a national charity is unwise. In fact, an organization such as the Red Cross is well prepared to deal with disasters like these, and does so by having teams of people on site for a substantial period of time. Do Web research to understand the efforts being made and choose a nonprofit that is directly supporting that work.
  • Check out the nonprofit. Scammers abound after a natural disaster. Make sure you are donating to an established, reputable 501(c)3 organization and beware of pop-up fundraisers on social media, through email, or phone solicitations. Look for a nonprofit with a proven track record of effectiveness. 
  • Send money, not stuff. Once you have identified a nonprofit to give to, the organization will let you know if it also needs supplies such as clothes or food. Usually, cash donations are the most practical and efficient ways to give -- for both you and the recipients.

For charities, fundraisers, and events in the local area, here is a long list from The Herald of Everett, Wash. It includes big national organizations, smaller local nonprofits, and regional foundations.

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