September 11, 2017
Kate Bahen, Managing Director
If you give, check out Samaritan's Purse Canada and Global Medic for St. Maarten and Barbuda, and consider Oxfam Canada in Cuba.
Updated: Virgin Unite Canada removed October 2,
A human chain of residents in St. Maarten, passing supplies from a Dutch soldier after Hurricane Irma. Photo credit: Dutch Defence Ministry. September 11, 2017
As we are seeing right now with Hurricane Irma, charities immediately issue appeals to raise donations to respond to high-profile disasters. These appeals went live before anyone knew the extent of the disaster, the capacity of local government and local charities to respond, and which charities are responding, or even the capabilities and areas of expertise of these charities.
This lack of information makes disaster response giving one of the hardest areas for intelligent giving; we give now without commitments on how the donations will be used, or when. Today we have only trust to go on, but we must follow up in a year’s time, note how donations were used, and give based on a track record. Charities need to report back to donors also in a year’s time on how much money was raised, how much has been spent, on what, on who, and plans for the remaining funds.
While Hurricane Irma dominated the media’s attention for the last week, the losses and damage were far less than initially speculated. The claims that Hurricane Irma would be the worst Atlantic storm ever, “the nuclear hurricane”, thankfully did not come to pass. Canadian Red Cross was estimating that 31.7 million people would be affected by Irma throughout the Caribbean1. In fact, between 3-4 million people were affected in the Caribbean, including those who had temporary power outages, with another 6 million affected in Florida.
Hurricanes give people warnings, providing people days to prepare. This results in significantly fewer fatalities than other natural disasters. Currently, Hurricane Irma has killed 37 people, compared with Hurricane Harvey’s toll of 70, and the Mexican earthquake that happened just last week that killed at least 902. The good news is that, of the people affected, Hurricane Irma killed only 0.00037%. Disaster preparedness is good.
Donors, please be clear, disaster response to Hurricane Irma is not about “saving lives”, as some charities are advertising3. This is not a “life and death” situation. The material destruction is widespread and recovery will be costly. But by and large, human life is not at stake.
High-profile disasters present charities with the opportunity to raise donations. 16 Canadian charities have registered with Canada Helps, launching fundraising appeals for those affected by Hurricane Irma4. Charities with the biggest brand recognition, with the best celebrity endorsements, get the most donations.
“There may be too much money raised by charities that are incompetent and too little money raised by competent charities. It’s not the amount of money raised, but the distribution that’s the problem.”
The Chronicle of Philanthropy, March 29, 2011
Canadian donors can “fix” this “donation distribution problem” by being informed.
- WHERE are the greatest needs? In the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, the most affected areas are the sparsely populated outer islands, namely Barbuda, St. Maarten, and
British Virgin Islands… and Cuba’s northern region.
- WHAT are the greatest needs? In these early days, the greatest needs appear to be infrastructure recovery – clearing roads, debris removal, and restoring power. This is not typical “charity work”. Instead, in developed countries, it is handled by governments, military (the Dutch, French and British military have come in to help in the disaster recovery and restore law and order), and power companies (Alberta’s Fortis has deployed to Turks and Caicos)6.
For Canadians who want to show their support for disaster recovery after Hurricane Irma (and we urge donors to think of other humanitarian crises that desperately need donations but are not capturing the media spotlight like Doctors Without Borders and UNICEF helping a growing 221,000 victims of genocide in Bangladesh)7, for Hurricane Irma we recommend:
For disaster recovery in the British Virgin Islands, population 35,000, hit by Hurricane Irma on September 8, 2017, ERROR: Virgin Unite – Richard Branson’s Virgin Unite's Canadian registered charity is not part of the BVI Appeal, unlike Virgin Unite US and Virgin Unite UK. Canadian donors can give to these other charities but will not receive a donation receipt. Other Canadian charities are raising funds but these will be directed to relief efforts across the Caribbean not specifically the BVI. Charity Intelligence has no recommendations for Canadian donors looking for donations to support the BVI. Among charities, British Red Cross is leading relief efforts and is a distinct charity different from Canadian Red Cross.
For St. Maarten /St. Martin, a Dutch and French island, population 74,210, hit by Hurricane Irma on September 7, 2017, Samaritan’s Purse was on the ground on
Link to donate to Samaritan’s Purse Canada
Canada’s Global Medic arrived in St. Maarten with 4 volunteers on
Link to donate to Global Medic
Barbuda, the outer island with 2,800 people is 140
For Cuba, population 11.1 million, where the north shore was affected, Oxfam Canada has been doing development work for over 30 years. Oxfam Canada helped in Cuba in the recovery from Hurricanes Ike and Paloma (both in 2008) focusing on supporting co-operative farmers10. Cuba is one country where Canadian donors may choose to focus recovery giving as Cuba is unlikely to benefit from generous American support as many American charities do not operate in Cuba.
To donate to Oxfam Canada's disaster appeal
Charities doing development work in poor Caribbean countries are launching Hurricane Irma disaster response appeals. Charity Intelligence is concerned that disaster aid money will fund regular development work. Disaster response is fundamentally different from long-term development work. This disaster region had good incomes, high vaccination rates, low child mortality rates, long life expectancy, and jobs before the disaster. Recovery is getting those affected to where they were before Hurricane Irma.
The Caribbean is a tourist destination rather than an area of ongoing charity development work. Canadian charities’ Caribbean bases are in Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Panama. These countries were largely unaffected by Hurricane Irma. It will be a logistical challenge to quickly deploy to the affected outer islands over 1,000
Credit is due to World Vision Canada, with its development operations in Northern Haiti (missed by Hurricane Irma) and a great track record in disaster response, for NOT being opportunistic and launching a disaster appeal fundraising.
Similarly, Doctors Without Borders is not responding but focusing on major humanitarian disaster responses in Bangladesh, Yemen,
Just reading through some of the charities’ Hurricane Irma fundraising appeals comments:
“…wherever children need us” – in a disaster response, everybody needs help. The young, the old, men and women, boys and girls. Please avoid donating to charities that just focus on children or girl’s education.
“… emergency teams are on the ground and preparing to respond” – Donors need to know where on the ground you are, your plan for getting to the disaster area, and do you have local partner agencies/church congregations to work with? What are your areas of expertise in disaster responses? Being prepared to respond is good intentions, actually responding matters more.
“Tarps for shelter” – lessons
Hygiene kits are a go-to charity handout in disaster response. The Gates Foundation’s evaluation on Haiti’s earthquake relief found
For additional questions or comments, please call Charity Intelligence 416.363.1555 or
About Charity Intelligence: Charity Intelligence researches Canadian charities for donors to be informed and give intelligently. Charity Intelligence’s website posts free reports on more than 700 Canadian charities, as well as in-depth primers on philanthropic sectors like Canada’s environment, cancer, and homelessness. Today over 328,400 Canadians use Charity Intelligence’s website as a go-to source for information on Canadian charities reading over 1.3 million charity reports. Through rigorous and independent research, Charity Intelligence aims to assist Canada’s dynamic charitable sector in being more transparent, accountable and focused on results.
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1. Canadian Red Cross, “Red Cross prepared to respond to Hurricane Irma”, September 5,
2. Christopher Sherman, “Death toll now at 90 as aftershocks rattle Mexico” Chicago Tribune, September 10,
3. British Red Cross, “You can save lives” Hurricane Irma appeal, September 7,
4. Canada Helps, Hurricane Irma appeals, September 11,
5. Saundra Schimmelpfennig, “The Dirty Truth About Disaster Fund Raising”, The Chronicle of Philanthropy, March 29,
6. Kim Smith, “FortisAlberta helps restore power in Turks and Caicos following Hurricane Irma”, Global News, September 10,
7. Doctors Without Borders Canada “MSF Scales Up Aid to Rohingya Refugees in Bangladesh, Raises Concerns About Conditions in Myanmar”, September 6,
8. Canadian News Wire, “Samaritan’s Purse to help victims of Hurricane Irma”, September 8,
9. Muriel Draaisma, “Canadian charity sends
10. Oxfam in Cuba, https://www.oxfam.ca/our-work/where-we-work/americas/cuba
11. DRR expert identified only as Cebu Pagligon Task Force, http://humanitariancoalition.ca/sites/default/files/publication/dec_hc_haiyan_review_report_2014.pdf p.17
12. Haiti Humanitarian Assistance Evaluation: from a Resilience Perspective, Tulane University, May 2012 http://www2.tulane.edu/drla/upload/UEH-Tulane-DRLA-Haiti-Humanitarian-Aid-Evaluation-ENGLISH-May-2012.pdf