Don’t donate money to Japan

By Felix Salmon
March 14, 2011
Individuals are doing it, banks are doing it -- faced with the horrific news and pictures from Japan, everybody wants to do something, and the obvious thing to do is to donate money to some relief fund or other.

Please don't.

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Individuals are doing it, banks are doing it — faced with the horrific news and pictures from Japan, everybody wants to do something, and the obvious thing to do is to donate money to some relief fund or other.

Please don’t.

We went through this after the Haiti earthquake, and all of the arguments which applied there apply to Japan as well. Earmarking funds is a really good way of hobbling relief organizations and ensuring that they have to leave large piles of money unspent in one place while facing urgent needs in other places. And as Matthew Bishop and Michael Green said last year, we are all better at responding to human suffering caused by dramatic, telegenic emergencies than to the much greater loss of life from ongoing hunger, disease and conflict. That often results in a mess of uncoordinated NGOs parachuting in to emergency areas with lots of good intentions, where a strategic official sector response would be much more effective. Meanwhile, the smaller and less visible emergencies where NGOs can do the most good are left unfunded.

In the specific case of Japan, there’s all the more reason not to donate money. Japan is a wealthy country which is responding to the disaster, among other things, by printing hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of new money. Money is not the bottleneck here: if money is needed, Japan can raise it. On top of that, it’s still extremely unclear how or where organizations like globalgiving intend on spending the money that they’re currently raising for Japan — so far we’re just told that the money “will help survivors and victims get necessary services,” which is basically code for “we have no idea what we’re going to do with the money, but we’ll probably think of something.”

Globalgiving, it’s worth pointing out, was created to support “projects in the developing world,” where lack of money is much more of a problem than it is in Japan. I’m not at all convinced that the globalgiving model can or should be applied directly to Japan, without much if any thought about whether it’s the best way to address the issues there.

That said, it’s entirely possible that organizations like the Red Cross or Save the Children will find themselves with important and useful roles to play in Japan. It’s also certain that they have important and useful roles to play elsewhere. So do give money to them — and give generously! And give money to other NGOs, too, like Doctors Without Borders (MSF), which don’t jump on natural disasters and use them as opportunistic marketing devices. Just make sure it’s unrestricted. The official MSF position is exactly right:

The ability of MSF teams to provide rapid and targeted medical care to those most in need in more than 60 countries around the world – whether in the media spotlight or not – depends on the generous general contributions of our donors worldwide. For this reason, MSF does not issue appeals for support for specific emergencies and this is why we do not include an area to specify a donation purpose on our on-line donation form. MSF would not have been able to act so swiftly in response to the emergency in Haiti, as an example, if not for the ongoing general support from our donors. So we always ask our supporters to consider making an unrestricted contribution.

I’ve just donated $400 in unrestricted funds to MSF. Some of it might go to Japan; all of it will go to areas where it’s sorely needed. I’d urge you to do the same, rather than try to target money at whichever disaster might be in the news today.

Update: Some bright spark has set up a “Socks for Japan” drive. I’m not making this up. I trust that none of my readers are silly enough to send socks to Japan, but this is a great indication of how wasteful a lot of well-intentioned giving can be.


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see

i don’t care about what evidence you have supporting your opinion. giving an article such title at such time is absolutely unacceptable. YOU SHOULD BE FIRED!!

Reuters, please fire him.

Thank you

Posted by FelixSalmonAss | Report as abusive

“In the case of Hurricane Katrina, donations exceeded $108 million during the crucial first four days.”


Posted by megumi203 | Report as abusive

I’m the “bright spark” who set up Socks for Japan. Why not read our information before disparaging the effort? We realize that socks are not primary support and we’re not attempting to supplant the sock supplies from larger groups and government. We’re also not accepting donations from inside Japan because there are other groups set up for that. We’re providing a base near the disaster zone where concerned foreigners can send care packs for distribution to victims.

We’re providing the victims with evidence of care, a clean pair of socks from elsewhere on Earth enclosed in a bag with a note of support with a translation into Japanese. This is not meant to replace other means of support, it’s meant to provide an additional way to help out. Survivors of the 1995 Kobe quake said notes of care provided them with some of the brightest spots on their hard journey back to normalcy.

You know what else? Victims on the news here in Japan are requesting socks and underwear right now. You may scoff at the notion of a small group of volunteers making a difference, but we’re gathering, sorting, and distributing thousands of pairs of socks to people who need them without interrupting the work of larger organizations. This kind of direct aid works and is good. The kind where individuals send boxes of various goods unsorted to teams who are busy is unhelpful. However, being able to say, “We have 5,000 pairs of mens’s socks individually packed in plastic bags with enclosed notes of concern” is helpful. We can pass the boxes on to other groups or self-distribute when given the OK and told where to go. This is efficient. It does not create unnecessary work for anybody. It helps victims.

If anybody dislikes our idea, then please support Japan in another way. If you’d like to learn more about our additional means of providing direct, meaningful support, please read up on us at Also, the socksforjapan page on Facebook shows photos of the immense effort underway, and the joy people on both sides of this effort are finding.

Let’s get this great nation back on its feet — in fresh socks!

Posted by jasonkelly | Report as abusive

How ridiculous is this article? Does that mean that the next time something happens in the US or any part of the RICH western world, we should just watch and not help? They are rich anyway, why bother is the argument right? Or does that only apply to Japan? It seems so unfair that everytime something happens around the world, Japan is called to give aid money and then when they need it most everyone looks the other way. Very sad… No wonder the rest of the world has looters except for Japan. Everyone else is out for themselves. Perhaps Japan knows this and therefore have to care for their own. No one else will. Very sad for humanity.

Posted by loneranger9 | Report as abusive


It’s not about being PC or pussyfooting around the issue – it’s about sensibility and tact. If you have a legitimate point to make that you are attempting to get people to agree upon, your best option is honey, not vinegar. It is time-honored and works wonders. The vinegar in this piece was a bit too much for most, and Mr. Salmon lost his audience while trying to make a very valid point.

As for your own post – you, too, were making a valid point until the last paragraph, where you couldn’t resist calling everyone who disagreed with you “retards”, an offensive term if ever there was one. If a position is valid, it shouldn’t be necessary to denigrate the other side in order to support it.

Posted by kanorcott | Report as abusive

This article is biased. It is insensitive and ridiculous to assume people in Japan don’t need help. When people loose their homes, their loved ones, have no where to go, no water, no food, it doesn’t matter whether they are rich or poor – every one needs help. It is shameless to claim his donations in this blog – it is putrid.

Reuters should know better than letting immature authors like Felix Salmon vent their frustrations on its website.

Posted by RaviP | Report as abusive

I am a Japanese living in the United States. The first thing I would like to notify you is that 90 % of Japanese online users are able to comprehend your article, and I am sure your sensational headline have caused anger, humiliation, and sorrow to those people, including myself. I am not sure, but you might be also from one of “wealthy” countries in the world. How would you think if your country was under such a devastating circumstances but someone wrote the same article, whose headline is “Do not donate money to ‘your country’s name’?” Happy? Probably not. Congratulations to call lots of attention with it, but if you could please be more considerate when you write a note online, a lot of people would appreciate the point you made here.
From the intro of your article, it seems like your whole intention was rather to offend people than to make a good suggestion about donation.

I see your point that you need to choose carefully where you donate your money so that it would just end up not being used for restoration of Japan. But I wonder if Japan would not need any financial support by donation because it’s a wealthy country. Because of regular blackouts in Tokyo until the end of April and future restoration of many cities destroyed by tsunami, Japan will owe a lot of debts, and there would be a huge damage in Japanese economics. Felix, do you have a good legitimate reason why you think Japan doesn’t need money at all?

Posted by makiyuri | Report as abusive

There’s a bit of fine print on the Red Cross website that seems to me to nullify your whole argument:

‘On those rare occasions when donations exceed American Red Cross expenses for a specific disaster, contributions are used to prepare for and serve victims of other disasters.’

Also, the guy soliciting socks is on the GROUND in Japan, distributing them directly, then and there — I really don’t see what’s stupid about that.

Posted by mattjblythe | Report as abusive

If Felix made the same argument about Israel there would be an outcry from all the news organizations. Don’t give to Israel because they get the bulk of the US foreign Aid and they don’t need it. But because it’s Japan, everyone will thinks he is cool for giving a new perspective. Wow! Life is not fair.

Posted by loneranger9 | Report as abusive

Thank you, Simon.
My mother is Japanese, and I grew up there-Kobe, if you know where that is-heavily affected by the Great Hanshin Earthquake of ’95. And until you breathe air saturated by the smell of charred bodies that were trapped in wooden buildings, until you see your childhood home shattered, until you almost lose your life, please refrain from being so publicly judgmental. My mother was so psychologically affected that her menstruation did not stop for a full year after. Try dealing with that when you are fiercely trying to protect your children, walking for hours in search for food with which to feed us. She never once complained. We needed diapers. We needed sanitary napkins. We needed socks. And can you even fathom why? The store shelves were empty, that’s why. What is so silly about needing socks in January, when all the gas and electricity has stopped? And there are no walls or a roof to shield you from wind & rain? It is not a question of a country being wealthy or not. In ’95, “only” a few thousand perished. In the aftermath, more died-not from physical harm, but mental. Some victims could not cope with the loss of loved ones, and eventually took their own. Ultimately, houses can be rebuilt, cars purchased again. But not our dead. Your cynicism brought back the pain we all suffered then, and ripped open wounds I thought had scarred over. So, thank you, for demonstrating your utter ignorance. Yet, having experienced it myself, I would not wish even you to suffer through an earthquake.

Posted by HeartBroken | Report as abusive

You can do whatever you like with your money Salmon but to write an article about what others should do with their money during a time of crisis is low. I have lost respect for you and your journalism.

Posted by sleepyhead22 | Report as abusive

First of all, at least half of the people here have no idea what they are talking about, because they don’t have a clue how Relief Aid functions. So, before putting blame on a guy who is actually trying to convey an opinion of many relief workers in the field, please to some research and then re-evaluate what’s been written here.
donating money for a certain cause, constrains the money to that cause, and legally they can not be used for another cause, hence the comment that in this current situation donating money is far from the best option. If a lot of you do want to stay ignorant about such issues as problems with constrained aid money do so, but simply be aware that your point of view has nothing to do with being humane, but rather with being ignorant and having no idea how humanitarian efforts work.

Posted by intrepidkid | Report as abusive

you disgust me.

Posted by gildasu | Report as abusive

You know, looking for a valid point in this article is kind of like searching for survivors in a disaster zone — they may be there, but you have to dig through a lot of s**t to find them.

I applaud your (eventual) point that people should be discerning when donating to relief organizations for this or any number of other horrible things going on in the world. However, I’m puzzled why you would take a good point like that and shovel it over with arguments such as, “Japan can print money, so money is no problem for them!”

I’m also puzzled why you would feel it necessary to belittle the efforts of anyone who feels moved to organize help for the victims of this disaster. Does it make you feel better about yourself? Blogging is a fine thing when it’s done to inform, but what you’re doing isn’t helping anyone.

When discussing your blog with anyone, my advice about reading it will probably be, “Please don’t.”

Posted by Matollen | Report as abusive

Wow Felix, I bet you felt like a big man didn’t you, typing this up on your Macbook while sipping coffee?

Posted by DougAnderson | Report as abusive

The reconstruction would take at least a few years, if not longer; and many victims would be needing help from Red Cross and others for as many years.

What “legal restrictions” are you talking about in here? Must the money be spent within a year or so?

The Japanese Red Cross officially says on their website that they appreciate the aid from other countries. In the long run, the more money they have, the better assistance they can give to those victims.

Sure, news organizations should monitor and investigate how the Red Cross uses the money, but looking at it now and concluding that Japan doesn’t need money sounds a very short-sighted argument.

And yes, Japan is not Haiti. So, don’t compare. If you want to make a valid argument, you should tell us how the relief aid was spent when Japan had a massive quake in Kobe in 1995 and how effective or useless the international donations were in the end.

Posted by keyjay | Report as abusive

I am disgusted by this article on many levels but ESPECIALLY that Felix would have the gall to tack on a disparagement of someone else’s effort to help people who are in a crisis.

Posted by sjhindallas | Report as abusive

Felix needs to take Economics 101. Printing more money does not equal more money. Printing more money equals inflation. Money doesn’t grow on trees. Japan can’t just make more money to pay for the damage.

Posted by takyono | Report as abusive

If the money is properly & timely used for the survivors, I’m ok for donation. However it seems the Japanses gov does not care about theie people, as long as the Emperor is ok. The Korean emergency crew should have stayed overnight in the airport to get the approval from Japanese gov. They refused emergency food offering from Korean food companies saying that they want Japanese product only. We (Koreans) just wanted to help as the closest neighbor despite of bitter history. OK. Anyway they have food stuff going bad in the warehouse guarded by loyal employees – why they can’t just distribute the food using choppers and drop from the air for the survivors? Are they planning a perfect plan? – and will it take several months??

Posted by Nabi | Report as abusive

Dear Felix,

You are a bad person and you should feel bad.

No love,



Dear Reuters,

Why does this person still have a job? He’s an established idiot who makes YOU look bad. Please remove him from his position posthaste.

Thank you,


Posted by Shipwreck_light | Report as abusive

If you don’t want to donate don’t. Do not tell other people to shelve their empathy and charity. You appear to be ignorant of the consequences of catastrophes and the long term effects. No matter how wealthy a country normally is, it is not wealthy during a crisis, actually series of crises, like this. In a few years and with help to take care of their people and recover from the damage it will likely be wealthy again. Unlike Katrina where even the US failed to adequately help, this is not a small part of their nation. Unlike Katrina, these areas are critical to the economy of the whole nation. Unlike the US, the Japanese will not just walk away from their people like the American government did to the poor victims of Katrina.

This article is cruel and thoughtless and indicates that the author is actually pretty ignorant. I doubt he can just print anything he wants under the Reuters’ banner so Reuters itself must have okayed this. I am shocked and disappointed. It simply is not this man’s business to say that money gets left over so don’t give any. It is not his money and, for the most part, the money goes into the pot for the next crisis. That next one could be the big one on the West Coast. Shall we all just let the people rot because there may be too much money? In a long life I have never seen a crisis that had too much money and was cleaned up in months.

Posted by CalgarySandy | Report as abusive

Absolutely disgusting. Cold logic applied at a time of real tradgedy. First an apology. Then a resignation if not fired first.

The primary area of damage was done in small fishing villages in Northern Japan. The country as a whole may be fairly wealthy, but we’re not talking about Ginza or Omotesando here. Wake up.

Posted by salexe | Report as abusive

Lest this gem of a comment by intrepidkid is drown by barrage of ignorant criticism:

“First of all, at least half of the people here have no idea what they are talking about, because they don’t have a clue how Relief Aid functions. So, before putting blame on a guy who is actually trying to convey an opinion of many relief workers in the field, please to some research and then re-evaluate what’s been written here.

Donating money for a certain cause, constrains the money to that cause, and legally they can not be used for another cause, hence the comment that in this current situation donating money is far from the best option. If a lot of you do want to stay ignorant about such issues as problems with constrained aid money do so, but simply be aware that your point of view has nothing to do with being humane, but rather with being ignorant and having no idea how humanitarian efforts work.”

Posted by SnakeOilBoom | Report as abusive


Please send this Ipad monkey to Japan to cover the reactors. Better yet ship him off to Yahoo. He has obviously spent to much time in a cube. Or maybe one to many martini’s during his lunch hour. A little fresh air would do him good.

Posted by Azoetia | Report as abusive


I keep reading this article over and over again and it is complete biased BS. Felix Salmon is a RACIST! He is intentionally targeting the Japanese people and trying to disrupt any aid and donations to Japan. At the end of the article he tries to cover it up by saying that it’s the type of organization that you donate to etc. and that he also donated some money etc. However the first part of his blog concentrated on the reasons why you shouldn’t donate to Japan. Because they are rich, can print money and that most organizations are set up to help countries that are more IN NEED. Either way, he keeps stressing not to help Japan. Why? Because he is a BIGOT! He Needs to be FIRED!!!!!!!!

Posted by loneranger9 | Report as abusive

Dear Mr. Salmon,
Here is a picture of volunteers handing out the well-demanded socks. The line went outside the building. 10317eq-1/110317eq-1-01.html

Fuel, food, blankets and other basic necessity are in grave shortage.

Also, the purpose of Japanese government printing billions of yen was more to stabilize economy and avoid inflation. The victims of the disaster will not see these money.

While your point about the need of due diligence is valid, your lack of respect to the philanthropic efforts as well as your self-righteous tone turned your article into an example of poor journalism.


Posted by itamiko | Report as abusive

Here is a new title for your article.. “Don’t read Felix Salmon – He’s a stinky fish”

Posted by npsent | Report as abusive

Someone sent me this link, and it sounds rational on the surface. But the advice doesn’t resonate with the constant stream of news from Japan stating they have no supplies, no food, etc. No, it’s not money they need but in the short term – and IMMEDIATELY – they need basic supplies like food, warmth, medical supplies and fuel. That costs money. Because roads are so damaged and fuel is so short, it’s not possible for other parts of Japan to get this aid quickly to the refugee centers. But disaster relief agencies from around the world have the experts and the gear to get to the areas with relief supplies and other aid. And that costs money, NOW.

Posted by HelpJapan | Report as abusive

Interesting article.
Of course the headline is totally rubbish.
As a Humanitarian worker, who has worked for many years, in many disasters, wars, catastrophes, etc, I find it very bizarre that the majority, (okay, nearly ALL) of the most crack-pot and flaky, Organizations come from the USA.
NGOs, who are more interested in distributing bibles and Jesus than they are aid (Samaritans Purse, Tear Fund. To name just a couple of the Radical FundaMENTALS) and even the Scientology wackos in Asia after the Tsunami.

So people, YES, do think, before you give.

Posted by sirfish | Report as abusive

Thank you Felix Simon, for a voice of reason in the midst of the current hype. I won’t be donating 10 cents.

Posted by lexcontra | Report as abusive

Dear Mr Salmon, you insensitive smart ass piece of crap, I hope you suffer some similar personal tragedy that effects your immediate shelter and livelihood. I will reference this article to my face book friends, I hope that whatever notoriety that provides you will be offset by the the bad PR that Reuters will also receive for keeping a scumbag like you on their staff. You and your employers disgust me.

Posted by cirom | Report as abusive

Humans do what humans must. Consider, Mr. Salmon, my small donation as paying it fwd– perhaps it will come back to us in Alaska when the Next Big One hits, maybe not. But I’m human, and I’ll bet on the compassion of my fellow humans every time.

Posted by praetor01 | Report as abusive

headlines are to get people to click them, just as everything else on the internet

Posted by xanadu | Report as abusive

ATTENTION Richard Baum, Global Editor for Reuters. Could you please provide an official corporate position on this article. Please don’t hide behind some journalistic freedom of speech position. Does Reuters agree with the “opinions” offered by this member of your staff.
The common courtesy of a response would be appreciated, if you actually give a damn and are not too busy of course.

Posted by cirom | Report as abusive

Someone should tell Felix Salmon you can’t troll people on the internet when you are working for someone to major. LOL someone fire this tool, please.

Posted by Radelta | Report as abusive

This is all I need to know:
The average Japanese citizen has over $50,000 (US) in savings.The average American has less than $1,000 in savings (and is overextended, credit wise).

It’s a case of the janitor sending money to the company CEO, financially speaking – he doesn’t need it.

Posted by Know-It-All | Report as abusive

Screw you Reuters. I am going to spread this to every Japanese person I know….In fact, everyone I know. Time to spread some really negative biased stuff about your garbage organization.

Posted by letdown | Report as abusive

Japan is a country in dire need.

Send food, water, and medical supplies.

Help get some system set up that water can be piped, hosed, anything – to cool the ponds.

I suppose to fund Red Cross might most or some of the money to Japan – in the form of food, water, and medical supplies.

Posted by audreypapke | Report as abusive

Wow. Salmon, your heart is as tiny as your brain. Maybe even smaller.

Should run for President on the GOP/TP ticket. You’re perfect.

Posted by xbjllb | Report as abusive

Oh yeah all 300 of my friends on facebook will share this garbage article with their friends and so on. You SUCK Reuters. I hope this damages you.

Posted by letdown | Report as abusive

Felix Salmon,

You…are an unequivocal, in no uncertain terms, moron.
Suck my sock.

Posted by gknnth | Report as abusive

To the small brain ass hole that wrote this article, I hope no one comes to your aid when your have a problem. You should be fired for writing an article like this. I hope Reuters fires you!!., or are you a freelance writer that sucks!!!. I thought Reuters was better than that, I guess not!!!

Posted by ddsclub | Report as abusive

Richard Baum, Global Editor for Reuters is more of a moron for letting the first moron write this crap. Anymore more morons at Reuters thinking about writing moron articles? “We are Anonymous. We are Legion. We do not forgive. We do not forget. Expect us.”

Posted by gknnth | Report as abusive

Holy Toledo! I can’t believe the link to this story was in google news…and that it took me to Reuters!! What short sightedness and hypocrisy! He’s talking about organizations show boating tragic events to bring in donations…but isn’t that time to strike; isn’t that good marketing in a business sense? How these organizations use the money is what’s important and where we find accountability.
Is the Red Cross now using this event to get money or is Felix Salmon using this tragedy to show boat is grievances with these organizations?

Posted by jondavid | Report as abusive

@know it all.. Whatever the average Japanese did or didn’t have saved isn’t the issue. The point is the right now, there are hundreds of thousands whose lives have been destroyed, do you honesty think they still have those savings. Do you think they can just go down to the bank write a cheque and its all back to normal.

Posted by cirom | Report as abusive

It’s amazing how small-minded some of these comments are. Felix Salmon is not saying “Japan doesn’t deserve to be helped,” but that’s what a lot of the comments seem to be responding to. He’s simply challenging the belief held by a lot of Americans/people in the First World that just throwing money at some charitable cause is necessarily doing good. Donating money to an organization that does not have an effective plan of action is WASTING RESOURCES. Though we have good intentions behind our donations, and the Japanese effected by the disaster definitely deserve help, it’s not necessarily helping.

The article also brings up the relevant point that non-profit organizations are in a better position to create positive change in areas of persistent hunger, poverty, conflict, etc. These situations effect, literally, billions of people around the world and deserve just as much attention from charitable people in the rich world. But people seem to think that it’s more noble to focus on whatever major disaster is on the news.

Wishing ill on the author of this article is reactionary, not helping anyone, and to put it bluntly, just shows how idiotic you are. There’s nothing wrong with using “cold logic in a time of need” if cold logic is what helps us understand how to do the most good for the most people. Bravo, Mr. Salmon.

Posted by sapet298 | Report as abusive

Hmm… according to the fine print below (House Rules): “We try not to publish comments that we think are offensive”

Obviously, Reuters has not applied the same conditions to their writer, Felix Salmon.

We can add him to the list of people who have recently attempted to cash in on the death and suffering of the people in Japan with “humor” and shock value. Hope he loses his job like some of the other idiots.

So, what’s up Felix? No response?

Reuters – fire him so that he may learn from his mistake.

Posted by noisy | Report as abusive

Sorry Mr. Salmon, I’m still donating. Despite your venom, philanthropy is alive and well with many of us. Anyone who could view the reports of the pain and suffering in Japan and not want to help, is not someone of integrity or compassion.

Posted by FlWorker | Report as abusive

i can’t believe it is reuters … journalism sure has taken newer – lower and cheaper levels just to gain reader’s attention. What if this would have happened to you Felix ? Are you a beneficiary of MSF donations or have some other monetary vested interest ?

Posted by Devopam | Report as abusive