Beyond #GivingTuesday: Why Cash Is Best
Global need has rarely been greater. Today, a disparate population of 65 million souls forced to flee armed conflicts and natural disasters in Asia, the Middle East, Europe and sub-Saharan Africa, live transient lives with uncertain futures as displaced people far from their homelands. Roughly half are children.
But for all the suffering that accompanies this staggering level of human displacement, there is at least one saving grace: it’s never been easier for members of the public to reach out and lend a hand to those whose lives have be turned upside down—no matter where they may be in the world.
We at International Medical Corps were reminded of that fact in April of last year as we scrambled to assist survivors of a massive earthquake in Nepal that claimed over 8,000 lives and affected some 8 million people. A decision taken by social media giant Facebook—one taken within hours of the disaster―to designate us as their sole charity partner, ignited an unprecedented outpouring of public support. In just one week, nearly three-quarters of a million people donated a total of $15 million to support our relief efforts.
Aside from the sheer speed and overwhelming size of the response itself, there was something else about that $15 million that added to its impact: It was all in cash.
Why does cash matter? The answer goes to the heart of getting the most from every dollar donated to charity. For starters, cash donations are flexible and can be put to work quickly by experienced first responders who are on the ground and can see the needs are greatest. When those needs change―as they often do in the days and weeks following a major disaster―humanitarian response organizations such as ourselves who are on the scene are often the first to know and the best-placed to redirect desperately needed assistance quickly to address new dangers.
Thanks to the cash provided by generous members of Facebook, our programs were able to benefit more than 210,000 survivors in the first six months following the quake. And using cash to purchase needed materials locally not only boosts the local economies, but avoided the added burdens involved in shipping non-cash items such as transportation costs, customs duties and potentially long delays getting supplies through clogged ports.
To be sure, there are times when non-cash gifts can provide valuable assistance, especially when directed by knowledgeable professionals aware of the most pressing needs. We have been fortunate to receive donations from members of the Partnership for Quality Medical Donations and recently partnered with Fed-Ex to charter an airplane to ship urgently needed supplies to Haiti following the recent hurricane there. But often, even the most well-intentioned donations can go woefully awry, such as the weight-loss drinks sent to survivors of Rwanda’s convolution of genocide in 1994, the prom gowns that found their way to Honduras following Hurricane Mitch in 1998 and the cases of canned pork and beans that landed in Muslim Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban in 2002.
The flexibility that comes with cash gifts can save lives. Our initial response in Haiti last month to assist those caught up in the chaotic aftermath of Hurricane Matthew was directed to treat those injured during the storm and reconnect them with life’s most basic essentials like clean water and sanitation. However, when an outbreak of cholera posed a greater threat to human life, we were able to use cash donations to pivot quickly to confront the new danger.
Cash also enables us to fill critical gaps in our assistance as we see them arise, or allows us to implement innovative programs, such as mental health care for young children and adolescents as they and their families who have escaped Syria’s civil war work through the searing experience as they try to rebuild their lives.
Finally, cash can be a multiplier. A big one. We estimate every unrestricted $1 in cash donations can be leveraged to unlock an average of $30 in grants from institutional donors . Using cash to meet donor matching requirements can open the door to millions of dollars in additional resources to address pressing health care needs. So if you’re feeling generous and considering donating those used clothes piled up in the garage to keep Syrian refugees or survivors of a natural disaster in some far off land warm for the winter, please think again. Sell it all and donate the cash. The impact will be much greater!