Do's and don'ts of supporting disaster relief

Damaged coastline of Minami Sanriku, Japan-- one of the hardest hit areas by the tsunami. (Mitsuko Sobata/WV/2011)

In the last week in Japan, over 7,000 people have died. Close to another 11,000 are missing. Over 2,500 suffer from injuries. We all want to help. But it’s the wanting to help that’s the easy part. It’s how best to help, that is the real question. Sometimes our good intentions to help those in other countries can do more harm than good if we’re not careful.

That’s why we want to help you understand the very best ways to help those in need. Let this list help you make helpful and thoughtful decisions about how to best support disaster relief now, and in the future.

Special thanks to my colleagues Francois Batalingaya (World Vision U.S. Humanitarian & Emergency Affairs), Rachel Wolff (World Vision U.S. News Bureau) and communications and response teams at World Vision U.S. and World Vision Japan for helping to address the following.

DO: find a trustworthy, reputable relief organization to donate to.
When donating, it’s very important that you take the time to research an organization you believe in (Charity Navigator and GuideStar are great resources), and then support them in their work! Financial gifts allow these professional humanitarian aid organizations to respond as quickly as possible to the most-urgent needs on the ground, and your gift will be an important part of that work. See information on World Vision’s financial accountability for U.S. donations.

DO: believe that you are making a difference with a cash donation.
Cash donations can be used immediately to purchase critically needed items – either in the affected country, if they are available for purchase, or in nearby countries. Humanitarian organizations have established logistic channels that will get the aid to the country in the most-efficient way possible, through customs, and to those who need it most, while avoiding duplication. Also, reputable agencies send 80% or more of cash donations to the disaster site; the rest is invested in monitoring, reporting and other activities that facilitate transparency and efficiency in their operations, as well as in sharing information with those who can help.

DO: pray for those affected and for humanitarian workers reaching survivors.
Pray for energy, for those who grieve, for health, for Japanese Christians reaching out with God's love, for wisdom for aid workers responding. Click here for a complete prayer guide.


DON’T: think that volunteering in the disaster zone is the best way to help.
While hands-on service may feel like a better way to help in a crisis, disaster response is a highly technical and sensitive effort. Professionals with specialized skills and overseas disaster experience should be deployed to disaster sites. While volunteers with the needed professional skills, language, and experience can help save lives, untrained volunteers can do more harm than good, and siphon off critical logistics and translations resources.

DON’T: start collecting blankets, shoes and clothing as a way to help.
The cost of shipping these items by air– and the time it takes to sort and pack – is prohibitive and can entail a much higher cost than the value of the goods themselves. In addition, many aid groups will not accept used items under any circumstances. World Vision has emergency supplies already pre-positioned in disaster-prone countries as well as in strategically located warehouses around the world that meet international standards and are ready to be airlifted as soon as a crisis strikes. Cash donations remain the best, most cost-efficient way to help aid agencies deliver these life-saving supplies quickly, purchase supplies close to the disaster zone when possible and replenish their stocks in preparation for future disasters.

DON’T: think that people are helpless in the face of natural disasters.
In poor and wealthy countries alike, people often reveal a great deal of inner strength and often show a resourcefulness that can save lives. While support and aid are necessary, the Japanese people are by no means helpless victims in this disaster.

DON’T: think that just because Japan is a well-developed country, they don’t need our help.
While Japan is a well-developed country that does have sophisticated disaster response systems in place, the scale and scope of these massive disasters is such that no country could have been completely prepared for. While the role of aid agencies such as World Vision will be much smaller and narrowly targeted than in an impoverished nation like Haiti, there are real and urgent needs that humanitarian agencies are addressing in close coordination with local authorities and the government.

Help now

or text '4JAPAN' to '20222' to give a $10 donation

Read the latest Japan quake and tsunami updates.

See more resources on the World Vision Blog.


    I think this is a VERY useful article and im definetly going to share this with people! This also helps me talk to people about a fundraiser im doing for Japan relief. They need to know where the money is going and why cash donations are best! I love Japan very much and i have several friends there a care about and worry about and pray for everyday.
    Over all i like this article and i will say again it's useful!

    @Courtney- I'm so glad you found this post useful! Very valuable feedback. Thanks again!

    Although this is a wonderful organization and I've even tweeted this posting, it really bothers me that you have used an apostrophe in the words dos. That is incorrect, and it shows ownership :)

    THAT really bothers you, Ka? Seriously? The headline wouldn't make sense without the apostrophe in "do's" - it would look like the Spanish word for "two." How about commenting on the content of the post instead of something petty like that?

    Anyway, for the record, I think this post contains very useful info. A lot of people aren't very well educated in the nitty-gritty of disaster response work. Count me among them. Thanks, WV, and keep up the good work.

    And how about the non christians? Do they die in **** by default? duh... get out of the middle ages already.
    Otherwise, good article and advice.

    Hello, I'd like to place a new World Vision donation banner on my blog, but I can't find any that are current. Can you tell me where to find codes for this?
    Many thanks,

    @Gigi- I'm sending you an email right now with some banner codes :) Thanks for your interest.

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