We’ve all been captivated and struck by the devastation in Japan. Glued to our televisions and computers we can’t help but watch and read the many stories of destruction, humanity, science, and faith. There are so many calls for donations to nonprofit organizations to provide humanitarian and infrastructure support. I thought it would be good to remind everyone of some best practices as it relates to catastrophic gifting.

The Council on Foundations, in collaboration with the European Foundation Centre, published a post-9/11 guide called “Disaster Grantmaking: A Practical Guide for Foundations and Corporations.” The guide is a helpful resource in determining how to respond to disasters, whether they be natural or man made. Here is a summary of the guide’s “Eight Principles of Disaster Management”.

1. Do no harm. Make sure that the response isn’t going to create more problems. Aid groups, more than anything, request cash rather than goods and services.

2. Stop, look & listen before taking action. Make sure that you understand the specifics of the disaster. While the immediate response to the disaster is gratifying, one lesson learned from 9/11 was that many aid decisions were made in haste and failed to take into account long-term needs.

3. Don’t act in isolation. Coordinate efforts with other groups.

4. Think beyond the immediate crisis to the long-term. What will be needed in six months? A year?

5. Bear in mind the expertise of local organizations. Some of the most effective global aid organizations have longstanding relationships with local leaders and NGOs in the affected countries that have enabled them to respond quickly and effectively to the crisis.

6. Find out how prospective grantees operate. Know what approach you are supporting before you make a grant.

7. Be accountable to those you are trying to help. In addition to internal accountability- determining if the grant was spent as it was supposed to be by the recipient organization- funders need to also engage their grantees in a process that assesses social impact.

8. Communicate your work widely, and use it as an educational tool. Share your experience with boards, other grantmakers, the media, community groups, public officials and international organizations.

I also just read a great summary from Guidestar as it relates to catastrophic gifting and have included a link here. They call it their “Tips to Giving to Disaster Relief and Recovery.”

The best piece of advice when gifting during a catastrophy is to research the organization and make sure the gift is restricted to the disaster for which you are supporting.