It is almost inconceivable that the earthquake that recently hit Nepal was roughly 16 times more powerful than the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. We will not know the extent of the devastation there, or the human toll, for quite some time.
There's a lot of discussion in the media about the parallels between Haiti and Nepal, partially because both countries have such underdeveloped economies. According to 2013 data from the International Monetary Fund, Nepal is the 19th-poorest country on Earth, while Haiti is the 20th-poorest. Because of this, both countries were particularly unprepared; their infrastructures were not designed to withstand strong earthquakes, and their disaster preparedness was minimal.
We can only hope that larger disaster-relief organizations learned lessons to avoid some of the well-intentioned fumbles made in Haiti, like failing to work closely enough with local people and organizations. In Haiti, there was such an overwhelming influx of foreign aid workers and funds that Kathie Klarreich and Linda Polman of The Nation called it "The NGO Republic of Haiti" (NGO stands for non-governmental organization). You may remember the controversy over the Red Cross' and other aid organizations' slow recovery efforts after they had gathered well over $1 billion.
As independent donors to aid groups, we can learn lessons from the Haiti response as well. For instance, we can make donations to groups that are aligned with indigenous Nepali communities. And our immediate response right after the quake will make a huge difference in people's survival and health. This might be called the "emergency rescue and triage" stage. If you can respond financially now, it will likely save lives.
But there will be later stages of recovery when Nepali and NGOs will need your support. After most of the human disaster is addressed, stabilization, restoration of salvageable infrastructure, and rebuilding can begin. This will take years, particularly if the pace is comparable to that of Haiti's recovery. If you are concerned for Nepal in the long run, please consider making plans to give a series of donations over a number of years.
For your immediate response, plan to send a cash donation. Sending goods or even people to help at this early stage will simply hamper the emergency rescue efforts. Unless you're already a donor to an on-the-ground service organization in Nepal, rely on one of the nonprofit rating sites to find an NGO. The most prominent of these -- Charity Navigator, Guidestar, and the Better Business Bureau -- will each have a long list of NGOs that are already at work on Nepali relief.
Start by scanning the list for an organization that you already know and trust. If you don't find one, look for an organization that had people on the ground in Nepal before the disaster happened or at least has a cooperative relationship with organizations there. The rating sites will provide some information about each nonprofit and links to their websites so you can dig deeper.
Then make a donation now in whatever amount and form fits with your finances. The scale of your gift may seem meaningless in the face of that devastation, but at these phase of the recovery, it's vital that funds are given to organizations on the ground in Nepal that are positioned to rescue people swiftly. That's skillful giving, and it will make a real difference.
Fool contributor Mark Ewert is as serious about charitable giving as you are about investing, so he wants to help Fool readers to be skillful givers. You can purchase his new book, The Generosity Path: Finding the Richness in Giving through his website or at your local bookstore.