Some disasters are just more popular. It's a terrible thing to say, but charity does discriminate. Sometimes the cash flows and sometimes it just doesn't.
In the case of the Gulf Oil Spill, it hasn't. An article at MSNBC.com explores the possible reasons: few human lives lost, fury at BP and a belief that the company should be paying for everything, uncertainty about the final dimensions of the disaster, and confusion about where to send the money.
Here are some telling statistics about disaster giving from The Chronicle of Philanthropy and Indiana University's Center of Philanthropy, as reported by MSNBC.com:
- Eight days after Hurricane Katrina, more than $580 million had been donated while 17 days after the Haiti earthquake more than $560 million had been given. The Gulf oil crisis? Six weeks after the oil rig blew up creating the largest oil spill ever, only $4 million had been donated to charities helping in the area. (Chronicle of Philanthropy)
- The top disasters in recent years in terms of charitable donations were Katrina at $5.3 billion; $2.8 billion for 9/ll; $1.9 billion for the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami; and $1.4 billion after the Haiti earthquake this year. (Indiana University's Center of Philanthropy).
It could be that 2010 has been unusually active when it comes to disasters. We're only a little more than half way through the year and we've already had earthquakes in Haiti, Chile and China; the Gulf oil spill and now massive flooding in Pakistan. It's possible that American donors have more or less shut down. It is enough to overwhelm and depress us. The struggling economy doesn't help either. With the unemployment rate close to 10%, many are more concerned with paying the rent, paying down debt, and increasing personal savings, than with disasters, even when they are, literally, at our own doorstep.
I can't help but wonder too if donors, when confronted with all the choices about how to give when a disaster hits, aren't simply too confused to actually act. There are dozens of well-known, reliable charities that one could support. Some research has shown that too many choices overwhelm people and that a smaller number of possibilities are better.
Chip and Dan Heath point out in their recent book, Switch:How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, "decision paralysis" is a very real human problem, and charitable giving is not exempt. The Heaths point out that "More options, even good ones, can freeze us and make us retreat to the default plan..." and too often our default is to do nothing.
What do you think? Should we have a way to coordinate disaster giving (in the UK, the DEC or Disasters Emergency Committee is one attempt to do this) so that we have a single, clear way to donate when disasters hit? Would a more narrow menu of choices help? Should charities engage in more coordination in their fundraising rather than compete for donations? Or is donor fatigue/confusion/frustration/apathy just something we have to live with?
- Why People Don't Give to Our Causes
- Donor Fatigue for Chile?
- The Logic of the Illogical: Homer Simpson For Nonprofits
Photo by Gary S Chapman/Getty Images