Thursday, March 11, 2010

Unspent Virtue: Disaster Funds Still Not Depleted

I read an interest article in the Nonprofit Times about prior disaster relief funds which still have money in them.

Some examples:

--The America Red Cross (ARC) has 10% of its 2005 tsunami disaster relief money still remaining. How much money is that, you ask? Well, 10 percent of $581million would be $58.1 million.

--The Salvation Army has a little less than 12% of their tsunami relief fund left to spend from the money that was raised after the Southeast Asian tsunami of 2004. That 12% is a nearly $3 million.

--The ARC also has $1.4 million left in their Liberty Fund -- they have already distributed the $2.1 billion that was donated to that fund. The catalyst for that one? The 9/11 terrorist attacks of nearly 9 years ago.

I remember speaking with some of my then-clients right after 9/11, when the ARC had a public relations nightmare on their hands in regards to how they had handled much of the donations, and that most of the donations had not yet been distributed months after the attack. One person explained it to me this way, and I liked her way of thinking.

As a humanitarian organization, the ARC wants to plan for the highest and best use of the charitable dollars for the victims of 9/11. Let's say that 5 years after the disaster, they determine that much of the population living in lower Manhattan is developing a horrible lung disease as a result of breathing in all of the debris that was in the air weeks after the disaster. But now those dollars are spent and gone, and there is no money to help these people. Is that a better use of the charitable dollars than making millionaires of the survivors of 9/11's victims?

Where does the responsibility of the city and state begin and end in terms of the response to the attack? Should the ARC re-imburse the city for the use of their equipment to respond to the disaster, to use those charitable dollars to relieve a potential tax burden from the populace for the great expense that was incurred that day?

Outside of the immediate needs of food and shelter for victims, sometimes it takes a while for the true cost of a humanitarian crisis to be known. Responsible charities want to make sure they are using those dollars to ease the greatest need, but sometimes those needs aren't readily known. Not that I'm saying that the ARC is the most responsible one out there, but because of the amount of money involved they are under greater scrutiny, some deserved and undeserved.

As Laura Howe, Senior Director, Disaster Public Affairs of the ARC said in the Nonprofit Times article, "It’s never a question of whether or not we have money in the end or money that’s left over, but how can we get help to people in most efficient way possible.”

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