How can you help after a disaster?

Something big and bad has happened. How can you help?
Updated 30jan17
Copyright 2005-2017 Ken Young ( All rights reserved.
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Few organizations accept spontaneous walk-in volunteers. Sure, they want help, but weirdos show up with the volunteers. The organization will be held responsible for everything the weirdos do, both financially and with damage to their reputation. The are also financially responsible for everyone who hurts themselves while volunteering.

There are a lot of things you can do to become a valuable volunteer before the disaster strikes, but very little afterward. Consider joining an organization like one of these:

Join a local disaster relief or readiness organization like CERT (Community Emergency Response Team). See

Join a private disaster relief organization. The Red Cross is perhaps the most well known. See

Most church denominations have a disaster relief organization. These are often specialized and very effective.

Become a volunteer fireman. See

Volunteer with your local police department. There are many ways to do this, from learning how to direct traffic to becoming an auxiliary police officer. Find what programs your police have.


Donating money, whether a large amount or a small one, is always helpful. Most volunteer organizations can’t do anything without donations.

Donating goods is still good, but not as helpful as cash. Volunteers need to spend time sorting the goods, determining what can be used, what must be thrown away, and what needs to be given to a different organization. And finally, shipping the goods to the final destination costs money.

You can specify how the money is used when you donate. This is both good and bad. It’s good to be sure the money will go to something you approve of, but overspecifying ties the organization’s hands.
For example, relief organizations responded to many disasters in 2005. They had a hard time funding most of these efforts, but they had more money than they needed for Hurricane Katrina relief. Money donated for Katrina could only be used for that.
Money donated for “disaster relief” may or may not be used for the disaster you are thinking of, but it will help somebody.

Beware of scammers when donating. They use names, email addresses, and web sites that sound like legitimate organizations. Also, if the organization contacts you, it might not be legitimate.
If you are being pressured, you are being scammed. Don’t wire money, give cash, or write checks to individuals. Don’t give until you verify that the organization is legitimate.
There are also shady semi-legitimate organizations that use most of the money for the owner's salary.

Consider overhead expenses, also. Small organizations can use most of your donation for relief. Larger ones have more administration and overhead expenses. Yet there are some things that only a large organization can do.
Fundraising expenses are another consideration. External fundraising organizations take a percentage of the funds raised. If the organization contacts you, it may be a fundraiser acting on their behalf.
Gifts by credit card are subject to a processing fee.

Start-up charities that bear the name of the specific disaster may not have the experience, personnel, or resources to be effective. Some of them have a narrow focus and can do a great job at the one thing.

If giving to provide relief from a specific disaster, first verify that the organization has a presence on the ground in the affected area.

Giving money to a church operating in the disaster area is usually a very effective way to give, but only if you specify the money is for disaster relief. Churches are usually a good donation bargain even in the best of times, because most of the money provides services to people one way or another.

See also

What to do during and afterward                Cleanup after it's over              

This information was downloaded from