Don’t give to Japan?

Felix Salmon’s blog at Reuters made a startling suggestion: Don’t donate money to Japan.

His reasons (to simplify) are that Japan has the resources to recover on its own, and money going to relief for Japan is not going to relief in places that also need help but don’t have resources.

It’s provocative, and the blog has been flooded with angry comments. (I think Salmon’s blog must have got reported in the wingnut blogosphere, because many of the commenters seem to think his opinion signals a liberal big-government plot — go figure.) Most of the commenters clearly didn’t pay much attention to what Salmon actually wrote. His argument is reasonable.

But I think he’s wrong.

Rationally, if you’re looking for lives-saved-per-dollar, it makes more sense to donate to help victims of Haiti’s earthquake. Even 14 months later, people are dying from that quake’s aftermath. Or the everyday catastrophe of extreme poverty, which kills, maims, and crushes many more lives every day than disasters do.

But sometimes the heart has wisdom beyond reasoning. People are giving to help people in Japan because their suffering is before us. That’s the essence of charity. To try to lecture or train that compassionate and human impulse into something cool and calculating is just heartless.

Don’t give to the thing that’s stirring you to action right now, but give to something else that I’m telling you is more important. That’s a tough case to make. To people who never give, it’s just a bunch of noise. The only people you even have a chance to persuade are those deeply involved in charity, who give frequently and have a sense of connection to the causes they support. A disaster brings new givers to the table. Few of them are invested yet in the subtleties of the cause. But they’re taking a first step. Some of them are beginning a personal transformation that will make them wise, involved, and excellent donors. Now is not the time to whack them around because they aren’t quite getting it right!

Furthermore, charitable giving is not a zero-sum game. Giving begets giving. How many people, making an impulse $10 gift on their cell phone, will notice how it feels to make a difference and start giving regularly to all kinds of causes?

The fat part of the Baby Boom, those born from the mid 1950s to early 60s, are getting near donor age. There are so many of them, that if even a small percentage of them hit their donor tipping point a few years early, the impact on philanthropy will be huge. If giving to Japan now helps that along, great!

Salmon is just a guy with an opinion. But I know a lot of nonprofits who share that opinion whole-heartedly. They put a lot of effort into finding ways to educate donors — a massive and fruitless effort to make donors into different kinds of people whose motivations are different from the real donors that give real money in the real world.

That’s not just pointless. It’s harmful, and it’s callous. Gifts to Japan — even sloppy, emotional, unconsidered gifts — are a blessing. Not only to those in need who get help, but to everyone: nonprofits, their staff, and donors. Be thankful for the outpouring.

Thanks to @tactphil for the tip.


Comments

12 responses to “Don’t give to Japan?”

  1. Thank you for this. I donated via cell (first time!) to Red Cross Japan, and have had several folks make me feel guilty for not giving to Haiti instead.

  2. Thank you for this. I donated via cell (first time!) to Red Cross Japan, and have had several folks make me feel guilty for not giving to Haiti instead.

  3. Nonprofits are aggressively soliciting donations implying these donations will be used in the relief/recovery effort in Japan. However, a close look at the language they’re using reveals that their actual involvement in relief/recovery may be very limited and they are seeking donations for other activities. A few examples:
    “Catholic Relief Services: The organization said Friday it has personnel standing by throughout the pacific, waiting for requests for help from Caritas Japan.”
    “Oxfam America: The organization’s Web site this morning displayed the headline “Worst Quake in Japan on Record” and asked visitors to donate to its Saving Lives 24/7 Fund.” The Saving Lives 24/7 fund appears global in focus.
    “Save the Children: The charity said Friday it is mobilizing people and supplies to respond to the earthquake. The organization has worked in Japan for 25 years. On Saturday, it announced it had partnered with online game company Zynga to add calls to donate in the company’s games. On Sunday, the charity said it has sent an emergency team to assess needs in the worst-affected areas.”
    ” World Vision: The charity this morning reported that its offices in Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, and the Solomon Islands are on alert to assist in tsunami response. A team is also on standby for possible deployment.”
    The one exception to this trend has been: Doctors Without Borders and they have made being transparent with the most clear and explicit language.
    “At this point, we are drawing on unrestricted donations given to MSF to fund our efforts, and we are not accepting donations specifically earmarked for recovery efforts in Japan. We greatly appreciate your generosity and encourage your support of our work. We will continue to post updates on our homepage, Facebook, and Twitter as new information becomes available.”
    I’d highly recommend giving to the best charity you can, rather than basing your giving on who is appealing to you most aggressively with images and language regarding Japan.

  4. Nonprofits are aggressively soliciting donations implying these donations will be used in the relief/recovery effort in Japan. However, a close look at the language they’re using reveals that their actual involvement in relief/recovery may be very limited and they are seeking donations for other activities. A few examples:
    “Catholic Relief Services: The organization said Friday it has personnel standing by throughout the pacific, waiting for requests for help from Caritas Japan.”
    “Oxfam America: The organization’s Web site this morning displayed the headline “Worst Quake in Japan on Record” and asked visitors to donate to its Saving Lives 24/7 Fund.” The Saving Lives 24/7 fund appears global in focus.
    “Save the Children: The charity said Friday it is mobilizing people and supplies to respond to the earthquake. The organization has worked in Japan for 25 years. On Saturday, it announced it had partnered with online game company Zynga to add calls to donate in the company’s games. On Sunday, the charity said it has sent an emergency team to assess needs in the worst-affected areas.”
    ” World Vision: The charity this morning reported that its offices in Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, and the Solomon Islands are on alert to assist in tsunami response. A team is also on standby for possible deployment.”
    The one exception to this trend has been: Doctors Without Borders and they have made being transparent with the most clear and explicit language.
    “At this point, we are drawing on unrestricted donations given to MSF to fund our efforts, and we are not accepting donations specifically earmarked for recovery efforts in Japan. We greatly appreciate your generosity and encourage your support of our work. We will continue to post updates on our homepage, Facebook, and Twitter as new information becomes available.”
    I’d highly recommend giving to the best charity you can, rather than basing your giving on who is appealing to you most aggressively with images and language regarding Japan.

  5. Also, a note that cell phone donations will be delayed up to 90 days (unlike following the Haiti disaster when cellphone companies processed the donations right away).
    http://www.change.org/petitions/stop-the-delay-on-donations-to-japan-2#?opt_new=t&opt_fb=f

  6. Also, a note that cell phone donations will be delayed up to 90 days (unlike following the Haiti disaster when cellphone companies processed the donations right away).
    http://www.change.org/petitions/stop-the-delay-on-donations-to-japan-2#?opt_new=t&opt_fb=f

  7. I agree with you Jeff. Japan deserves our support. But then again, I think NPR deserves the support of all Americans too.

  8. I agree with you Jeff. Japan deserves our support. But then again, I think NPR deserves the support of all Americans too.

  9. I work for Save the Children and wanted to reply to Kelvin’s comment, as it looks like he was quoting from what Save the Children released in the immediate days after the disaster, when assessments were taking place and language was necessarily less concrete than what we have now. By way of update, as of March 22, Save the Children has, in collaboration with the Government of Japan, opened up four Child Friendly Spaces in tsunami-affected regions, where children can play with their siblings and friends while their parents seek assistance.
    Accountability to the children we serve, and to our donors is one of our guiding principles. We are very careful to not fundraise or accept funds for unnecessary programs. All public fundraising copy goes through a review process involving several departments, including programs and legal, to make sure it is accurate and ethical.
    I do agree with Kelvin’s comment about donors needing to do careful research into charities. Charity Navigator is a great resource for fundraisers to share with their donors.
    The ethics of fundraising for a disaster in a developed country have certainly been interesting.

  10. I work for Save the Children and wanted to reply to Kelvin’s comment, as it looks like he was quoting from what Save the Children released in the immediate days after the disaster, when assessments were taking place and language was necessarily less concrete than what we have now. By way of update, as of March 22, Save the Children has, in collaboration with the Government of Japan, opened up four Child Friendly Spaces in tsunami-affected regions, where children can play with their siblings and friends while their parents seek assistance.
    Accountability to the children we serve, and to our donors is one of our guiding principles. We are very careful to not fundraise or accept funds for unnecessary programs. All public fundraising copy goes through a review process involving several departments, including programs and legal, to make sure it is accurate and ethical.
    I do agree with Kelvin’s comment about donors needing to do careful research into charities. Charity Navigator is a great resource for fundraisers to share with their donors.
    The ethics of fundraising for a disaster in a developed country have certainly been interesting.

  11. Here are reasons why you should donate to Japan.
    Some people are saying you shouldn’t donate Japan because Japan is
    such a wealthy country. Its true that Japan is one of the wealthiest
    countrys and there are some poor countrys who are suffering.
    But, Japan needs to rebuild and get back to normal as soon as possible
    for the world.
    There are a lot of people related to Japan all over the world.
    Billions of people work for Japanese companies like SONY, NISSAN,
    TOYOTA, TOSHIBA, SANYO, NINTENDO, SHISEIDO here in US.
    If those companies goes to bankrupt, it would cause a lot of economic
    damage all over the world including the US. Not only people who work
    for Japanese companies, but there are also a lot of people related to
    Japan. BESTBUY makes a lot of benefit from selling PS3, A lot of
    artists go to Japan tour and sell a lot of tickets and CDs, Japanese
    people spend a lot of money for traveling outside of Japan (in fact,
    after the earthquake, its so quiet in Hawaii because of no tourist
    from Japan), and many book stores and TV companies make benefits for
    selling Japanese comic books, and playing Anime.
    Some people say its not fair to help rich country, but why not? Japan
    has been helping so many countries, but they don’t get helped when
    they are in crisis? Because of they are rich?
    Its like if you are a doctor, and there are 2 patients waiting for
    your operation. You can only help one. One is always been your client
    and support you a lot, and the other is poor. You choose poor one only
    because you feel more sorry for the poor one?
    If you help Japan, Japan will be able to help Africa after they get
    back to normal and work hard again.
    Japanese people have strong obligation. I’m not saying those people in
    poor countries don’t have such things, but there are not much they can
    do.
    31million dollars donated to Africa from Japan last year. It won’t be
    that much until Japan will get back to normal.
    Also in economy side, Japan needs to get back to normal as soon as possible.
    The money you were going to spend for Japan is definitely worth it if
    you choose right organization.
    There is a news that American red cross gathers all money for Japan,
    but they decided to send it to Japan for only 10%, and rest of the
    money goes to other places.
    It’s just not fair. People who donate money were wishing it goes to
    Japan. They can’t decide where money should go. What if your kid is in
    some other country, and you send money to the school the kid goes to,
    and the school decided to give these money to other kids because they
    are poor even though your kid is in crisis and need money.
    I’m not trying to say you shouldn’t donate money to other country, but
    it doesn’t make sense that you don’t need to help Japan because Japan
    is a wealthy country. They weren’t naturally wealthy, (look their
    products, its all creativness) they made effort to be wealthy. They do
    have rights to get donated. And you don’t have rights to stop people
    to donate to Japan.
    By the way, people in Japan don’t say “DONATE US”. They are not just
    begging help or appealing. They are trying to stand up by themselves.
    Is it too bad to help them?
    Don’t get me wrong, donating to Africa is still good thing. If you
    have money to give and you are willing to do it, go ahead. But I
    disagree that money that supposed to go to Japan is taken for other
    reasons.

  12. Here are reasons why you should donate to Japan.
    Some people are saying you shouldn’t donate Japan because Japan is
    such a wealthy country. Its true that Japan is one of the wealthiest
    countrys and there are some poor countrys who are suffering.
    But, Japan needs to rebuild and get back to normal as soon as possible
    for the world.
    There are a lot of people related to Japan all over the world.
    Billions of people work for Japanese companies like SONY, NISSAN,
    TOYOTA, TOSHIBA, SANYO, NINTENDO, SHISEIDO here in US.
    If those companies goes to bankrupt, it would cause a lot of economic
    damage all over the world including the US. Not only people who work
    for Japanese companies, but there are also a lot of people related to
    Japan. BESTBUY makes a lot of benefit from selling PS3, A lot of
    artists go to Japan tour and sell a lot of tickets and CDs, Japanese
    people spend a lot of money for traveling outside of Japan (in fact,
    after the earthquake, its so quiet in Hawaii because of no tourist
    from Japan), and many book stores and TV companies make benefits for
    selling Japanese comic books, and playing Anime.
    Some people say its not fair to help rich country, but why not? Japan
    has been helping so many countries, but they don’t get helped when
    they are in crisis? Because of they are rich?
    Its like if you are a doctor, and there are 2 patients waiting for
    your operation. You can only help one. One is always been your client
    and support you a lot, and the other is poor. You choose poor one only
    because you feel more sorry for the poor one?
    If you help Japan, Japan will be able to help Africa after they get
    back to normal and work hard again.
    Japanese people have strong obligation. I’m not saying those people in
    poor countries don’t have such things, but there are not much they can
    do.
    31million dollars donated to Africa from Japan last year. It won’t be
    that much until Japan will get back to normal.
    Also in economy side, Japan needs to get back to normal as soon as possible.
    The money you were going to spend for Japan is definitely worth it if
    you choose right organization.
    There is a news that American red cross gathers all money for Japan,
    but they decided to send it to Japan for only 10%, and rest of the
    money goes to other places.
    It’s just not fair. People who donate money were wishing it goes to
    Japan. They can’t decide where money should go. What if your kid is in
    some other country, and you send money to the school the kid goes to,
    and the school decided to give these money to other kids because they
    are poor even though your kid is in crisis and need money.
    I’m not trying to say you shouldn’t donate money to other country, but
    it doesn’t make sense that you don’t need to help Japan because Japan
    is a wealthy country. They weren’t naturally wealthy, (look their
    products, its all creativness) they made effort to be wealthy. They do
    have rights to get donated. And you don’t have rights to stop people
    to donate to Japan.
    By the way, people in Japan don’t say “DONATE US”. They are not just
    begging help or appealing. They are trying to stand up by themselves.
    Is it too bad to help them?
    Don’t get me wrong, donating to Africa is still good thing. If you
    have money to give and you are willing to do it, go ahead. But I
    disagree that money that supposed to go to Japan is taken for other
    reasons.

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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff BrooksJeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 35 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com. More.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 30 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com.

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