Thursday, March 17, 2011

How to Help?

Like so many of you, I have spent much of the last week going about my life with one ear tuned to the ever-present TV, listening to coverage of Japan and feeling sick at their plight. Earthquakes are terrifying enough, without a tsunami and the threat of exposure to nuclear radiation.

The obvious question is, "How to most effectively help?" I am not 100% sure that the following is the best answer, but will throw it out there and let you decide for yourselves.

For Japan with Love

Lydia at Ever Ours and many others are proposing and participating in a fund raising effort to support the recovery efforts in Japan. They are raising funds for ShelterBox. This is an international organization headquartered in the UK that provides tents and (basically) camping equipment for families without shelter. Their web site says that they are already delivering these boxes in Japan and that they have helped all over the world in recent crises like this. Each box costs $1,000 (American) and holds a tent large enough for a family or group of ten people. It also includes a stove, cookware, blankets, ground covers, and a tool kit - no food in this.

All of the necessary links are on Lydia's site.

A Caveat

This sounds like a great idea to me. What I understand about the Japanese people is that they are incredibly hard-working and enterprising. That leads me to believe that once their immediate needs for shelter and food are met, they will dive into cleaning up and rebuilding their country in an incredible manner. But, clearly today's need is food and shelter. ShelterBox seems like a great solution. And, honestly, I love the "concreteness" of this as a way to help.

But. There is always a "but".

The U.S. website evaluates charities and rates them - based largely on how they spend the money they raise. They give ShelterBoxUSA (the US branch) a 3-star rating - 3 out of 4. According to their scale, ShelterBox spends roughly 20% of the funds they raise on fund-raising and administration. The charities that are 4-star rated spend about 5% on fund-raising and administration. I'm not saying that 20% is necessarily bad, but you need to take it into consideration before you send your money to them.

The question is, "Is what they do important enough to me to spend the 20% on administration?"

I don't have that answer yet for myself, but wanted you to know about this opportunity if - like me - you are still trying to decide what agency can best translate your dollars (pounds, Euros, drachma, rubles,etc.) into meaningful assistance to the people of Japan.


  1. Thanks for the tip. It is important to know how your donation dollar is spent, esp. if you can not donate many. For many, $50 is their widow's mite to give, and when they find out that only $20 of it went to direct aid, it can be very discouraging. Consider donating time if cash is hard to spare -- Donating time helps reduce administrative overhead, and allows the giver to be directly involved in the giving.

  2. A good perspective, Miss Bender, as always. i am really conflicted about this one, but wanted others to have a chance to make up their own minds... or be conflicted, too!

  3. This is such a sticky question because you're right...these organizations can't exist without staff and most of that staff is paid and that money has to come from somewhere...but do you want YOUR money to go to their staff or to the actual crisis. I wish non-profits could find a way to fund their administrative needs separately from the money they use for crises. It's part of the reason why I was glad to write a check to Mom for the roof in Africa - 100% of that money went to the building of the roof. But unless you know someone who is first-hand to the tragedy, it's very hard to make sure that happens. Thanks for posting the info about this organization, though. I had never heard of them and as much as I support the Red Cross, I am generally looking for other non-profits to give to.

    And for the record, I don't think anyone in the state of KY breathed for the last 3 minutes of that game. I'm really sorry for the close call. I'll have a chat with someone before tomorrow's game.

  4. Great advice. I know beyond the just chipping in with a few dollars some people may feel the need to be able to "write" something to someone in Japan. I just learned the Chicago Botanic Garden is setting up a "wishing tree" where people can leave messages of support to the people of Japan in their garden. They're all accepting them on their website. If there's a botanic garden or Japanese garden near you, they're probably doing something similar.

  5. MGT - That's actually a neat idea. Will check to see if Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden - just down the road - is doing it. They have a lovely Japanese section, so may well be participating. Thanks for the tip.