Donating to Japan, cont.

By Felix Salmon
March 16, 2011
Stephanie Strom has a fantastic article in the NYT today, which actually reports out the whole issue of why it's silly to donate money to Japan.

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Stephanie Strom has a fantastic article in the NYT today, which actually reports out the whole issue of why it’s silly to donate money to Japan. Go read the whole thing, but here’s some choice bits:

The Japanese Red Cross, for example, has said repeatedly since the day after the earthquake that it does not want or need outside assistance. But that has not stopped the American Red Cross from raising $34 million through Tuesday afternoon in the name of Japan’s disaster victims…

The Japanese government so far has accepted help from only 15 of the 102 countries that have volunteered aid, and from small teams with special expertise from a handful of nonprofit groups…

Many of the groups raising money in Japan’s name are still uncertain to whom or to where the money will go…

Holden Karnofsky, a founder of GiveWell, a Web site that researches charities, said he was struck by how quickly many nonprofit groups had moved to create ads using keywords like “Japan,” “earthquake,” “disaster,” and “help” to improve the chances of their ads showing up on Google when the words were used in search queries.

“Charities are aggressively soliciting donations around this disaster, and I don’t believe these donations necessarily are going to be used for relief or recovery in Japan because they aren’t needed for that,” Mr. Karnofsky said. “The Japanese government has made it clear it has the resources it needs for this disaster.”

The NYT has, smartly, disabled commenting on the article — people get really emotional about this subject, and can be astonishingly bad at understanding what you’re saying. (No, Bill O’Reilly, I did not tell the government not to send aid; I did not say that there wasn’t much relief in Haiti, and I certainly didn’t say that we shouldn’t send money because “we don’t have any money, we’re bankrupt.”) But Strom’s message is important — the Japanese Red Cross is very explicitly and repeatedly saying it neither wants nor needs the money that the American Red Cross is raising for it. So if you’re going to donate money to a desperate cause, there are much better ways of doing so.

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