How You Can Help Louisiana Flood Victims

(The National Guard prepares for flooding in Louisiana)

Disastrous floods have struck Louisiana yet again. The toll has been staggering. This week, more than 66,000 Louisianans have filed for FEMA assistance. As many as 40,000 homes have been damaged by flood waters, and at least 30,000 people have been rescued from either vehicles or homes by authorities due to the Louisiana flood.


The total cost of the Red Cross’ operations in the region is expected to reach $30 million in order to cope with the crisis, which has claimed 11 lives so far.

In addition to having to rebuild after losing so much, residents in Louisiana face a number of other issues that stem from this natural disaster, the likes of which are becoming all-too-common as climate change continues to ravage coastal regions. Lingering health risks – such as mold exposure – will haunt residents for months to come.

Celebrities and average citizens alike have pitched in to help those affected. In a high-profile move, Taylor Swift has donated $1 million for relief efforts. Lady Gaga has also contributed, having donated an undisclosed sum.

You, too, can help flood victims rebound. The following vetted organizations are organizing and/or providing on-the-ground services for Louisiana residents. Make a gift today:

Red Cross
United Way
Louisiana Strong

Red Cross Gives Money Directly to Canadian Wildfire Evacuees

Much of central Canada is still ablaze. According to reports, wildfires just spread to the Saskatchewan province having torn through Fort McMurray over the past two weeks, scorching well over 100,000 hectares of land and displacing more than 80,000 people. The number of individual fires numbers at least 49, and more than 16,000 structures have been completely destroyed.

This is a harrowing disaster for those directly impacted. Their homes and belongings destroyed, they face an uncertain future and a steep hill to climb before regaining normalcy in their lives.

The Red Cross – in conjunction with Canada’s federal government – is trying fresh approach to disaster relief that places financial resources directly in the hands of those impacted by the wildfires. Debit cards have been distributed to people fleeing the destruction, with each adult receiving $1,250 with an additional $500 for each child. As of this week, the total funds distributed amounted to $65 million disbursed to more than 63,000 evacuees.

According to Canadian Red Cross CEO Conrad Sauve, the organization’s move is a milestone in disaster relief strategy, calling it “the most important cash transfer we have done in our history.” The ongoing disaster – set to break records for the costliest in Canadian history – certainly warrants bold efforts.

Directly distributing funds to disaster victims, however, is historically controversial, considered by some in the humanitarian sector to lack the oversight and transparency of top-down organizational spending through which aid groups provide services for the dispossessed rather than providing them financial resources directly.

This conventional wisdom was shaken following the Haiti earthquake in 2010, for which the Red Cross raised half a billion dollars from an energized international public struck by the tragic scenes splayed on television sets across the world. Much of the money vanished, without tangible infrastructure or humanitarian improvements in the poor Caribbean nation. A joint report from NPR and ProPublica found a number of dismaying statistics; for example, the Red Cross initially announced that it provided homes for 130,000 people, whereas reporters were only able to uncover six permanent homes.

The Red Cross is also known for its decision to use funds donated in the wake of 9/11 for general operating costs, infuriating the public and ultimately bringing down the organization’s chief officer.

As the Canadian wildfires represent one of the highest profile disasters in the Western hemisphere of the last decade, perhaps the decision to provide funds directly to victims is – in part – an attempt to pursue the organization’s mission without the liability of generating another front-page snafu tarnishing the humanitarian group’s image.

How the evacuees fair in the short- and long-term will indicate whether such a strategy is worth emulating for future disasters.

A Global Response to Zika Virus Begins

(Mosquitos: the chief culprits in the rapid spread of the Zika virus)

On February 1, the World Health Organization declared a global health emergency. The announcement came in response to an extraordinary increase in birth defects in Brazil. During 2015, thousands of infants were born with microcephaly – a disorder that causes fetuses to develop abnormally small heads. Though researchers have not been able to conclusively make the connection, the leading hypothesis holds that the Zika virus is likely responsible for the uptick of this rare birth defect.

WHO Director Margaret Chan declared the pattern in Brazil “an extraordinary event and a public health threat to other parts of the world.”

The crisis certainly has global dimensions. First discovered in the 1940s in Africa, the virus only made its way to Latin America last May, where it has since rapidly spread to 23 nations. Florida Governor Rick Scott has announced a state of emergency after as many as 12 cases emerged in the state. A pregnant woman in Spain recently became the first European Zika virus case. Specialists believe that up to 1.5 million Brazilians alone may have contracted it.

The issuing of the global health emergency will trigger funding for prevention and mosquito eradication – efforts to contain the spread of the virus, which takes its biggest toll on new borns. Women in many affected areas who have contracted the virus, however, are stuck in a difficult position. Many of the countries hit with the outbreak have strict anti-abortion laws in place, meaning that affected pregnant women may have to bring children to term who have severe, debilitating brain-damage. Microcephaly cannot be detected in fetuses until late in the second-trimester, further complicating the situation of Zika-stricken pregnant women residing in nations with restrictive stances on reproduction issues.

While nations like Brazil are reconsidering strict anti-abortion laws in light of the Zika virus outbreak, others are holding fast to their onerous legal codes. El Salvador – where abortion is illegal – has officially suggested that women simply refrain from getting pregnant until 2018.

Authorities have sought to dispel concerns that the virus poses a risk during the upcoming Olympic games, scheduled to be held in Brazil this summer. Government officials cited the relatively cool month of August and rigorous mosquito eradication efforts underway as reasons why visitors for the games will be safe from contracting the virus. Drawing a link between the Zika virus and international sporting events, however, some specialists have speculated that the virus could have been introduced into the country during the 2014 World Cup. So far, no upsurge in ticket returns has occurred in response to recent events.

Key Elements Group LLC will continue covering the global response to the Zika virus as programs get underway and fundraising initiatives begin in support of affected communities.

How NGOs – And You – Can Help Nepal

As the tremors faded, aid officials and victims of the April 25 earthquake in Nepal began taking stock of the destruction and pain left in the disaster’s wake. Nearly 5,000 people are thought to have perished, with over 9,000 injured and up to 8 million directly impacted by the 7.8 magnitude earthquake.

In the capital city of Kathmandu, many people are sleeping out in the open, avoiding the danger posed by damaged and destroyed buildings. Makeshift tent cities surround the capital. Lingering threats include landslides, one of which claimed the lives of as many as 200 people in the days following the earthquake.

According to a spokesperson from World Vision – an aid group – landslides are one of the most pressing concerns at this juncture: “Villages . . . are routinely affected by landslides, and it’s not uncommon for entire villages of 200, 300, up to 1,000 people to be completely buried by rock falls.” With the geological stress from the earthquake, more of these may occur in the coming days.

Nepal is among the poorest nations on earth, and has inadequate resources and infrastructure to cope with the tall challenges facing it. To make matters worse, the country is also remote and geographically isolated. Some villages are extremely inaccessible, posing difficulty for aid providers, rescue teams, and government agencies.

With the severity of the crisis and Nepal’s preexisting poverty, commentators are making inevitable comparisons to the 2010 Haiti earthquake. Writing for the Nonprofit Quarterly, Rick Cohen points out a number of considerations that NGOs need to make in order to avoid mistakes and controversies that arose from relief efforts in Haiti. It is essential for NGOs to work closely with Nepalese authorities, he writes, and not “bypass them as they did so often in the case of Haiti.”  Accountability is also an issue, with NGO self-regulation in underdeveloped countries often resulting in poor oversight.

Lastly, Cohen remarks that “[n]o State Farm or Allstate is going to rebuild the homes of people who lost their shelter,” and that the “millions of Nepalese affected by the earthquake need to be helped back beyond where they were.”

Though seemingly cavalier to state now, this disaster may be an opportunity for long-term improvements for the Nepalese people, as well as a chance for NGOs to shore up infrastructure and operations to help in this process.

There are a number of ways you can help. These vetted organizations are accepting donations for relief efforts. 

ActionAid: USA

American Jewish World Service

Americares

Catholic Relief Services

Heart to Heart International

Save the Children

United States Fund for UNICEF

Fundraising Essentials: Mobile Giving

Earlier this month, Paypal announced its 2014 charitable giving statistics. If there is one thing that the numbers tell us, it’s that donors are moving toward mobile devices as their preferred means of digital giving.

Paypal – an online payment service – saw a 50 percent overall increase in year-end giving, totaling $212 million in donations. #GivingTuesday had its best year since its founding in 2012. Donors gave 66 percent more than they did through Paypal the previous #GivingTuesday, and mobile giving leaped an astonishing 101 percent.

The trend in mobile spending is not unique to nonprofits. On Black Friday this year, retailers witnessed a 62 percent increase in Paypal purchases made through mobile devices.

The biggest reason for this development is that mobile giving is extraordinarily easy. Revolutionizing during the tragic earthquake in Haiti, nonprofits adapted text-based donations into their campaigns with great success. By simply responding to or sending text messages, donors could send gifts in response to ongoing events completely hassle-free.

Political campaigns took the strategy one step further during the 2012 presidential election. Campaigns stored their donors’ credit card information, soliciting funds via emails that allowed repeat donors to merely click a giving level to immediately send a gift.

Mobile fundraising simultaneously taps into the immediate psychological gratification that derives from charitable giving, while also satisfying consumers’ ever-growing preference for convenient, streamlined, and user-friendly digital designs that simplify financial transactions.


Take tipping at restaurants and cafes, where a similar trend has emerged. Tipping has increased due largely to the intuitive design of iPad checkouts, through which a click of a button enables the consumer to tip without experiencing any interruption to flow of the transaction

Advancements in computer technology have driven the size of consumer electronics down, while greatly increasing their capability and utility. In thirty years, we’ve seen seen the arc of technological progress span between the release of the household desktop to this year’s highly anticipated iWatch.

Consumer behavior – part catalyst for this rapid change, but itself molded and affected by technological progress – now evolves at a quicker rate than ever before. Keeping track of this evolution is essential market-watching for fundraising professionals.

Nonprofits Innovate with Drone Technology

Drones: a technological development whose connotation has evolved from mysterious military weapon to an everyday recreational consumer good with a growing array of practical applications. Improved and cost-effective designs have shrunk the price for basic models to around $500. This has led to a rapid proliferation of the devices – also known as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs).

While U.S. businesses (including Amazon, which expressed interest in developing a drone delivery service) have had their drone plans shelved by a federal government uncertain of how to regulate commercial usage, nonprofits and humanitarians around the world have been quick to adapt the remote-flying devices for their work.

PETA uses drones to monitor illegal hunting practices in Upstate New York. The organization has even branded drones with their logo, selling them to activists. A Belgian engineering graduate named Alex Momont designed an “ambulance drone,” which will enable medical professionals to deliver defibrillators to cardiac arrest victims in remote or obstructed areas. Doctors Without Borders enlisted the help Matternet, a Silicon Valley-based drone company, to figure out how to transport tuberculosis samples from remote communities to urban testing centers.

This recent burst of innovation and integration of drone technology appears to be the start of a trend. Staff at the nonprofit Global Medic predict a number of other applications for disaster relief, including search and rescue operations, mapping damaged infrastructure, and tracking population movements. Environmental groups are also exploring the utility of UAVs; a group called ConservationDrones is raising money to develop a fleet to monitor endangered animals, such as the elusive snow leopard.

Right now, nonprofits that possess modest numbers of drones face minimal regulation. The nonprofit Texas Equusearch brought a case against an FAA employee who ordered the organization to cease its drone operations. After review, a panel of judges from the Federal Appeals Court threw out the case stating that there is no legal justification or precedent that prevents the nonprofit from using drones.


That might soon change, however, as the technology faces tougher scrutiny in the wake of high-profile incidents underscoring the danger and potential criminal applications of drone technology.

On Monday, January 26, a UAV crashed on the Whitehouse lawn. A drunk employee of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency was operating the drone from a nearby apartment building and steered the device over the Whitehouse fence. While this incident did not pose a direct threat to the president or his family, it occurred just days after the Department of Homeland Security held a conference that demonstrated how easily a terrorist could use UAVs to deliver explosives.

A number of other cases have officials mulling over security risks. In France, drones have been seen flying above nuclear reactors. In South Carolina, a drone carrying phones, drugs, and tobacco for inmates crashed at a correctional facility.

Some proposed regulations would mandate safety protocols programmed into drone firmware, which would render drones non-operational or send them back in the direction of their users the moment they entered restricted airspace. The Chinese company DJI – designer and producer of the model used in the Whitehouse incident (pictured above) – announced that it will program such firmware, and that they will develop further programming to prevent drones from flying over national boarders.

This self-regulation, however, will not prevent the inevitable. Specialists agree that these safety configurations are easily hacked, and that with individuals would be capable of circumventing them with minimal know-how. Other controls will be needed to safeguard against misuse.

To what degree drone usage will be regulated remains unclear. One proposal would require users to hold flying licenses, a measure that the Washington Post describes as “overkill.”

Nonprofits should continue integrating technological innovations like drones into their operations. While organizations should also anticipate the conversation around regulation to gain momentum this year, that should not prevent them from demonstrating how technology – when responsibly used – can make profound, positive impacts on the world.

Fundraising Progress in Ebola Fight

In September 2014, several reports explored the difficulty that fundraisers were having as they struggled to raise money for the fight against ebola. A number of factors – from the seeming remoteness of the disease in Africa, to the expectation for the government to simply deal with these sort of issues – left people in a state of passivity, while the disease continued to ravage cities in West Africa and NGOs battling the disease were left with increasingly steep bills.

Then there were scares at home. Here in the United States, a couple of cases brought the reality of the disease to the attention of the nation’s news media. A man in Dallas, having travelled to Liberia, passed away from the disease in a Texas hospital. A New York doctor contracted the disease while working abroad and caused a stir by having a night out on the town shortly before the symptoms appeared (the disease only being contagious, of course, once a carrier is symptomatic).

But as time went on and no new cases popped up, the fear dissipated – and so did the media attention.

While the disease still threatens many communities in West Africa, the situation has certainly improved. In conjunction with the brave work of many NGOs – as well as government personnel from a score of nations, including the United States and Cuba – donors finally broke the dry spell last fall by opening their wallets. Beginning with high profile philanthropists from the tech sector, the flush of fundraising and government-vowed assistance at least partially ameliorated the peak level of carnage wrought by the virus. Now, Mali is ebola-free, and Liberia and Guinea are moving to reopen schools in the coming months.

Bill Gates began the big donor trend in September 2014, when he committed $50 million to fight ebola. He donated another $5.7 million in November. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife followed suit, pledging $25 million to the cause last October.

Facebook went on to initiate a crowdsourcing campaign to raise money for ebola. Big tech is also providing logistical support for the effort, as recent news out of the Davos summit reveal that a collaboration of companies including NetHope, Facebook, Cisco, and Inveneo will work to provide reliable internet connectivity to support NGO work in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea.

Compared to fall 2014, there also appears to be a significant increase in bottom-up fundraising: a Liberian student at Eastern Mennonite University is teaming up with Nobel Peace laureate Leymah Gbowee to raise money; organizers in Winnipeg are putting together a concert to benefit children orphaned by the disease; to date, the crowdfunding site GlobalGiving has helped raise $3 million for 29 community organizations on the frontline of the fight against ebola.

The path to eradicating this horrible virus is still long and difficult, but global efforts that arose from the uproar over the initially weak and non-unified response to the disaster appear to be making a very tangible impact.

Red Cross Under Scrutiny

The Red Cross is drawing some bad press following a joint report by ProPublica and NPR concerning the organization’s accounting. An oft-cited statistic – peddled by Red Cross CEO Gail McGovern, among other executives – that the group uses 91 cents of each dollar it raises to provide humanitarian services is false. In 2013, overhead costs comprised 17.5 percent of contributed dollars, or nearly twice as much implied by the claim.

Senator Charles Grassley has called for the Red Cross to “elaborate on how it calculates the facts and figures given to the donating public.” Following the report, the Red Cross altered it’s language to state that 91 cents of each dollar it spends goes into humanitarian services – a statement that ProPublica also labels “misleading.”

The Red Cross is a unique entity. While technically an independent nonprofit organization, the group operates formally as a “federal instrumentality,” which requires the Red Cross to follow congressional mandates for humanitarian assistance. While the organization is not a federal agency, it nonetheless occasionally receives government funding when publicly-raised money is insufficient for particular humanitarian services.


Another idiosyncratic side to the Red Cross is its business structure. The group’s well-known blood drives actually provide it with a salable product from which it profits immensely. The Red Cross sells donated blood to medical providers, often at a lower price than private competitors (as evidenced this year when the Indiana Blood Center lost one-third of its revenue as clients flocked to the Red Cross’ cheaper blood supply).

As pointed out by ProPublica, the Red Cross conflates its blood business with disaster relief. If the two services are separated, actual operating costs show that the organization spends two-thirds of its budget on its blood services. For this reason, the altered claim that 91 cents on the dollar go to humanitarian services is rather spacious. Notwithstanding the value of cheap and abundant blood supplies, its difficult to equate disaster relief with profitable blood drives.

McGovern’s less-than-truthful claim does not match up to the standards of transparency and forthrightness that nonprofit institutions should hold themselves to. Nonetheless, there is nothing remarkably off about the group’s services-to-overhead ratio. Indeed, the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance states that nonprofit overhead costs should not exceed 35 percent of budget, a ceiling that the Red Cross does not even approach.

Furthermore, the business practices of the Red Cross should not obfuscate the organization’s financial needs. While selling blood is no doubt a profitable enterprise, the organization cannot afford to appear completely self-sufficient. If donors perceive a nonprofit to have a diverse revenue stream that adequately provides the funding necessary for operations, essential fundraising efforts can consequently have worse returns. This threatens the organization with budget shortfalls, as well as a tarnished image for its efficacy and social impact.

The Red Cross should rectify its false statements. But instead of entrenching the value of a humanitarian organization exclusively in dollars and cents, the public should consider the greater impact resultant from the organization’s efforts as the chief inducement for philanthropic giving.

Non-profits Struggle to Fund Fight Against Ebola

This year’s Ebola outbreak has sparked a global response. Governments, aid organizations, and public health groups from across the world are pledging billions of dollars and sending personnel to provide relief in affected areas.

The situation is urgent. The World Health Organization projects that anywhere from 5,000 to 10,000 new cases will occur weekly by December. The current outbreak has already claimed more lives than all previous ebola outbreaks put together.

At this rate, the already high cost of containment will only continue to grow. The ebola treatment camp in Bong County, Liberia (built by Save the Children, operated by the International Medical Corps) cost $175,000 to build. It employs a paid staff of 165 and goes through 100 sets of gowns, sheets, and other basic patient supplies a day. Monthly, the operating cost is around $1 million, or $15,000 per bed. According to figures from the WHO, operating 100,000 beds would cost West Africa $1 to $2 billion a month.

Frontline non-profits are struggling with these costs. Natural disaster development professionals are at pains to formulate effective fundraising strategies. While a couple of high-profile donations have secured media attention for the fundraising effort—Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg donated $250 million the the Centers for Disease Conrol, and the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation pledged $50 million to UN agencies and various non-profits operating in West Africa—fundraisers face an uphill battle appealing to grass-roots funding.

According to Joel Charny of InterAction, this is because donors respond to cataclysmic events. Highly visible natural disasters such as the 2010 earthquake in Haiti and the 2013 typhoon in the Philippines generate not only billions in fundraising, but also volunteers. According to David Wightwick of Save the Children, planes were overflowing with volunteers after Typhhon Haiyan struck the Philippines. But when his organization requested 28 logisticians to work in countries affected by ebola, 21 declined.

Gary Shaye, who also works for Save the Children, commented that “until [ebola] is something much more visible in the media, it’s almost impossible to raise funds.”

Finding a way to tap into the public’s philanthropic spirit is a paramount issue facing frontline non-profits working to contain ebola. Once fundraisers craft a message that connects their potential donors to the plight of ebola sufferers—just as donors felt connected to the victims of other recent natural disasters—disaster relief organizations will be able to move forward in their hugely important work.

This process may now be under way. Mark Zuckerberg has announced a fundraising drive that will be featured on Facebook, where users will be asked to help stop ebola with a donation to the response effort.

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