But we all wanted to help and we sent billions of dollars to nonprofit groups who were working on disaster relief, and then recovery efforts.
Americans gave some $4.2 billion but, while three quarters of that money went to established nonprofits such as the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army, the rest went to small charities, some of which came into existence specifically because of the hurricanes.
According to experts such as Trent Stamp, who heads Charity Navigator, this plethora of new and/or small organizations was good and bad. Smaller groups can be more flexible and move faster than larger ones. On the other hand, they might be inexperienced, uncoordinated, or lacking in the specific skills that disaster response requires.
In an Associated Press article, Stamp said, "Maybe $1 billion went to groups that we've never heard of to do work we're not sure was needed or even done....There's no accountability for that money, and that concerns me."
A study by the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana and the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government came to the conclusion that ad hoc groups did help fill "a tremendous gap left in the response by the state, local and federal governments."
The study pointed out that sometimes volunteers from small groups such as churches were among the first to reach the affected areas. But, the study admits that there are questions about how effective these groups were when they got there.
The study said, "Lack of coordination, both with government officials and with other nonprofit agencies, slowed progress....Many small nonprofit or faith-based organizations took on more than they could comfortably handle."
Experts suggest that small, local nonprofits prepare ahead for catastrophic events. They should get together, pool their expertise, and have a plan. Then they could be a very powerful source of help.
For donors, the advice is to check out charities before donating to them and, when in doubt, give to large, established groups that know how to be accountable for your donor dollars.