Did Your Donation Really Reach Japan? (Probably Not.)

Twitter is full of anxious donors, retweeting to text REDCROSS to 90999 to make $US10 donation. Now, there's nothing wrong with this donation: The American Red Cross is a superb organisation. But Japan hasn't actually asked for help just yet.

In other words, you may think your money is helping disaster relief in Japan. But from the press releases we've seen today, no US-based nonprofits are actually deploying to Japan yet.

The diction is almost universal across some of the biggest, most respected relief organisations in the world. Just take a look at The American Red Cross' last press release:

"The American Red Cross stands ready and willing to assist following a magnitude 8.9 earthquake in Japan and the resulting tsunami that affected other countries in the Pacific region...To date, the Red Cross has not received any requests for blood from the Japanese Red Cross, the Japanese government or the U.S. State Department."

(Highlights added for emphasis.)

So everyone who's texting to donate to the Red Cross isn't actually reaching Japan. Not yet. And they might not - ever.

This example isn't intended to single out The American Red Cross. From what we can tell, every major relief organisation with an American chapter is doing the same thing: raising funds for if and when they're deployed to Japan or anywhere else affected by the day's events. Doctors Without Borders may be an exception, as they've sent a scouting crew ahead.

We were unable to reach The American Red Cross or a few other organisations for comment, but we did talk to Charity Navigator about the ordeal, one of the leading authorities on nonprofits - particularly on how nonprofits are spending their money.

They confirmed, it doesn't appear that Japan has asked anyone for outside assistance just yet. And we have no way of knowing if they'll actually need it.

"Every disaster is different. It's too early to tell [if Japan needs outside assistance] ," explained Charity Navigator VP Sandra Miniutti. "Waiting 24-36 hours to donate wouldn't be a bad thing,"

So why is everyone asking for money? Natural disasters bring in donations. Hurricane Katrina brought $US3.3 billion to date. Haiti has brought in $US1.4 billion so far. And when is the best time to ask someone for money? When he can see floods, fires and other devastation on TV.

If you donate today, that organisation could still provide relief a week, a month or a year (or more) down the line. That delay isn't necessarily a bad thing, either.

"I think, often times, donors rush to help and the pressure is for the charities to react quickly," says Miniutti. "It is important to wait and allow the charity effective time to develop a plan...middle to long term development work..."

No one is telling you not to donate - your $US10 or $US50 will most likely help somewhere else that totally needs it if it doesn't end up in Japan.

It's just important to know, when you're passionately sending dollars over text messages, where those dollars actually go. All of us want to help Japan right now. But the sad fact of the matter is, we may not be able to.

For a complete list of excellent nonprofits who have pre-committed assistance to Japan, go here.

Mark Wilson runs a daily donation site called Philanthroper.



    I showed up at my local Red Cross on September 12, 2001 to give blood. They basically told me that because so many people had showed up, they were going to dispose of all the blood donations that weren't type AB. I'm sure they're a fine organization for certain situations, but I'd honestly feel like my money has a better chance of helping in Japan if I sent it to Lady Gaga's relief fund. There are many other organizations like Doctors Without Borders that can use the help. Take a good look at whoever you donate to, and make sure they're reputable and have a plan to actually use the money for Japanese relief.

    Hello. Tagline not helpful. The fact is the organization will, hopefully, use your money in an effective way--whether it is really going to help the Japanese right now or some other country in desperate need of help is really immaterial. You should be focusing on the gesture, which is well intended, and not the result--criticize if the money is wasted but not if it not going to Japan per-se


    The Japanese Red Cross has agreed to accept donations from donors in the UK.

    In the event that we receive more donations to the Japan Tsunami Appeal than the Japanese Red Cross and International Red Cross Red Crescent Movement can reasonably and efficiently spend, any surplus funds will be used to help us prepare for and respond to humanitarian disasters both here in the UK and overseas.

    I would rather just donate direct to Japan Red Cross, via Google Checkout:

    Somewhere, a contractor that usually patches up the seawall finds $24B set aside for their task; quickly, send more logistics and liquidity managers! Ask Nergal for help (see Nadesico)! Send a bunch of comic Kevlar hamster-ball airbags so the very disaster-prone (it didn't seem so much like young or old?) can weather tsunami....

    Hm, Google misfortune rank....

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