Data for Giving - thursday 2010-01-14 0120 last modified 2010-01-14 2356
Categories: Nerdy, Current Events
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As Haiti and the international community begin the long, complicated recovery process in the aftermath of a severe earthquake, those of us nowhere near the epicenter have limited venues for rendering aid, mostly in the way of materials and money. We don't have the specialized training, the time to lend our inexperienced thoughts or actual hands, neither do we have materials that would be of use during a disaster in a Caribbean climate - and so we look to our wallets.

And again the evergreen problem of giving. To whom? To a clearinghouse of good repute? But those have necessary administrative overheads and a potential remove from knowing which actual needs to fund. A specific organization with a narrow focus? They may not be all that useful in an earthquake ravaged Haiti. They may not know enough about Haiti or have any staff or partners who can communicate fluently in Haitian Creole. And disaster relief is something of a specialty, not everyone can bring their skill into a high stress region where what modern infrastructure existed before has been severely strained and broken.

How do you choose? For all the charity watchers like GuideStar and the all-too-weighty recommendations of mass media, how can you be sure their recommendations are really trustworthy? How would you know, for instance, that Partners in Health has decades of experience and reputation in Haiti along with medical facilities outside of Port-au-Prince?

Before I leap into an overly tech idea, I will note that the best way to assist in disaster relief is to help ensure the foundations are laid down during times of peace, and that some of the best options for assisting a charity involve regular donations.

Onwards. It's been interesting to note that at each major natural disaster, a lot of activity springs up on the internet as wired folks stamp in frustration at their own remove and try to formulate ways in which technology can help. I'd like to see some charities start to publish their own lifecycle assessment data - information on how much money they take in and on what - and most importantly - to whom it goes on its way out, along with some sense of what happens to it in the hands of its partners. In addition, some concrete measure of their accomplishments in light of organizational goals. I'd find that level of transparency in a charity attractive. Given independent auditing and good indicators, it would definitely help me to assess where a donation would go, and I'm guessing it would be of use to others. A major weakness, it probably takes more work than it's worth. If a charity doesn't already go to such lengths to quantify its activities, and I'm guessing most don't want to spend any more overhead on such a task, there just won't be that much data out there. Well, I can dream.

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