Aid and relief agencies are rushing to assist the people of Haiti after yesterday's devastating earthquake. But they can't do it without you or, more accurately, without your money. Although it's really easy to donate your dollars, it is unimaginably difficult to actually help people. The best fund raisers in the business are not the best relief workers in the business.
If I learned one thing during nearly 18 years as an aid worker and journalist in Africa it is this: Nothing is simple. Helping people is much more complicated than just delivering food and medical supplies. To accomplish these tasks with even moderate success requires tact, skills, knowledge, and political savvy that can't be learned from books and newspapers.
So take a minute. And take some responsibility. As a donor, you are responsible for what is done with your money. And the wide range of organizations who need your money aren't going to do the same things with it. And how do you know what your favorite charity is planning to do in Haiti? Ask them. Demand that they put the information on their websites and in their PR material. It's not enough that they slap pictures of suffering Haitians online.
What do you need to know? First and foremost, is your favorite charity already working in Haiti? Have they had personnel there for years, with contacts in affected areas? Do the really know the country and the local leaders who will help deliver aid quickly and equitably to those who need it most?