Humanitarian Organizations
Working In The Disaster Region

The most efficient and effective way to help those affected by a disaster overseas is to make a monetary donation to a humanitarian organization that is implementing relief programs in the affected region. It is important to validate the reliability of such organizations through Government Agencies such as USAID or InterAction.
AmericasRelief Team has years of experience working in the field of humanitarian disaster relief in the Americas. Additionally, we are actively involved with USAID on an ongoing basis.
InterAction is an association of non-profit humanitarian organizations and has a list of members responding to the disaster on their website. Among these organizations you can also find AmericasRelief Team. See InterAction’s Crisis Response List for more details.
Another great resource is ReliefWeb, it is a website maintained by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, which is a repository of information, categorized by disaster, provided by humanitarian organization involved in the relief effort.


Monetary Donations

Monetary donations are the most effective form of assistance because they allow humanitarian organizations to purchase (often within the affected region itself) the exact type and quantity of items needed by those affected by the crisis. Monetary donations, therefore, have several logistical advantages over commodity contributions:
Monetary donations are more cost-effective than commodity contributions, because the cost of international shipping usually exceeds the cost of procuring the commodities within the region.
Monetary donations, unlike commodity contributions, do not involve international transportation and handling, which can be very complex and time consuming.
Humanitarian organizations can use monetary donations to specifically procure items on a priority-needs basis in the exact quantity and quality required - while commodity contributions often involve use of scarce resources (transportation, staff time, warehouse space, etc) for non-crucial or inappropriate commodities.
Commodities procured by humanitarian organizations using monetary donations can be sorted, labeled (in the appropriate language), and packaged in exactly the manner required for storage and distribution and will reach the affected region much quicker than commodity contributions would.
In addition to these logistical advantages, monetary donations to humanitarian organizations also help to ensure that relief efforts contribute to the long-term sustainability and self-reliance of the affected region. This is because commodities that have been procured by humanitarian organizations using monetary donations:
are more likely to be culturally and environmentally appropriate, and consistent with traditional practices and consumption patterns;
support the economy of the affected region when procured locally, thereby contributing to the eventual goal of self-reliance and economic growth.

Commodity Contributions

While monetary donations are preferred to commodity contributions, there may be rare instances when a commodity contribution would be of value to relief operations.

Conditions For Appropriate Commodity Contributions

The following is a list of conditions, which are necessary to ensure that a commodity contribution is appropriate. These conditions can serve as a guide for potential donors of commodities to determine whether or not to contribute the commodities.
A humanitarian organization with staff in the affected region should request the commodities being offered. The request must be very specific and the organization should approve the commodities after having reviewed all relevant technical specifications.
The requesting organization should also have the capacity to distribute the commodities to the beneficiary population or be partnered with an organization in the region that does.
The commodities offered should not be available for purchase in the affected region. Or if they are available locally, their procurement within the region should be cost-prohibitive. The reason for this condition is that relief efforts should strive to support the regional economy through local procurement whenever possible, in order to promote sustainability and self-reliance. In addition, local procurement ensures cultural and environmental appropriateness.
The commodities being offered must be useable and sustainable. The commodities should be adaptable to local technical and environmental conditions, such as voltage, dust, temperature, humidity, etc. When relevant, local language must be used (for example, computers should be programmed in the local language and instruction manuals and pharmaceutical labels must be translated). When necessary, appropriate technical training must be provided. The beneficiaries must be able to obtain associated supplies (for example, paper and toner cartridges for printers and copiers). Repair services for the commodities must be available locally.
InterAction maintains a list of its member organizations that sometimes accept commodity contributions.

Alternate Uses For Commodity Contributions

If a commodity collection does not fit the criteria or appropriateness, an alternate possibility is a yard sale of the collected material with the proceeds being donated to a humanitarian organization working in the affected region. The sale could be held via a church or community group, and advertising it as supporting people affected by the disaster might increase patronage.
Another possibility is to donate the commodities to charitable organizations operating in the US. There is plenty of need across this country, and commodity contributions made in the US do not face most of the problems described in these pages: transportation cost, urgency, cultural appropriateness, etc. Examples of charitable organizations include the Salvation Army, Goodwill, homeless shelters, the local chapter of the American Red Cross, and others. Check a local phone book for more information.

Drug Donations

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), donated drugs are often inappropriate for the emergency to which they are sent or level of care available. They may also be unfamiliar to local health-care professionals and may not comply with local policies. And they may even be dangerous.
See WHO's Guidelines for Drug Donations
For more information, see


Volunteer opportunities in disaster settings are extremely rare, and are usually limited to people with prior disaster experience and technical skills (such as health, engineering, etc). To register your skills and experience for a possible volunteer opportunity, go to the Center for International Disaster Information's registration page. Or read about Volunteers for Prosperity, a volunteer program managed by USAID. For more information on volunteering, visit InterAction.

More Information & Resources

For guidance on making an informed donation decision, see the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance.
Most of the material in this document was produced by United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and has been formatted in a more convenient and clear manner for the purposes of this document.