Wherever you are right now, you are fortunate. Why? Because you’re reading this post from a screen of some kind, which means you probably have electricity. And most likely you’ve got a warm place to sleep tonight and enough to eat for dinner. We know that not everyone is so lucky.
Every few months there’s some kind of terrible news story that shakes us through and through. Watching it play out on television we are heartbroken for the victims and their families and we desperately want to help. That sentiment comes from a true place, but things often go wrong from there.
As someone who sews, quilts, knits or crochets, it seems like the best course of action is to start making things to send to the victims and those in need. After all, a handmade quilt, or a knitted stuffed animal, or a crocheted blanket is a warm and comforting thing of beauty that expresses our
heartfelt feelings of compassion for people who are going through terrible times.
Photo of Hurricane Katrina donations by Schnittkes on Flickr.
The truth is, though, that direct donations of goods, especially in the wake of a disaster, can truly cause more harm than good. Boxes and bags of blankets and clothes and stuffed animals pile up on the floors of warehouses, waiting to be inspected, sorted and distributed. The flood of donations commonly creates a second crisis of sorts.
Beyond the strain on already strapped volunteers, though, donating a handcrafted item is an inefficient way to help people in need. It feels good to make a stuffed animal to send to a child, but it just doesn’t make sense as a way to help. Here’s a sorta corny, but very truthful short video that explains this inefficiency. Take a look:
Give to charity. But instead of making a quilt, write a check and give it to a vetted charity that will use it efficiently. Particularly after big natural disasters, the most critical needs aren’t things that crafters can make and send. Things like jet fuel for rescue helicopters, life support equipment for injured people, and money to pay overtime for police and fire fighters are what’s critical. These are things that make the biggest impact and only money can buy them.
On a smaller scale, charities that work directly with people know what’s needed most. They can use your donation to buy goods directly from suppliers in a cost effective way, and distribute goods quickly and efficiently from an organized warehouse. Let them buy the blankets if blankets are what’s
How do you find a charity you can trust? If you live in the U.S., one option is Charity Navigator, an independent charity evaluator. Charity Navigator evaluates the financial health, accountability, and
transparency of 6,000 of America’s largest charities.
I asked Sandra Miniutti, the Vice President of Marketing and the CFO of Charity Navigator, how she would advise a crafter who might want to knit or sew for charity.
“We tell people it’s always better to donate cash, rather than goods,” Miniutti said. “If you truly want to create something and donate it to charity, there very well may be great charities out there that would love to receive handcrafted items. Once you find a charity that looks like a good candidate, just give them a call to discuss your donation. This would ensure that you don’t send them items that they can’t use.”
“I think the same idea goes for victims – it can’t hurt to try to contact the victim or a family member to determine if they’d be happy to receive the items.”
Photo by Jamiesrabbits on Flickr.
If you think about it, what charities need most is dedicated people and people cost money. A cash donation worth the cost of the yarn it would have taken you to knit a hat is more valuable to a charity than the hat itself.
But what if you want to give more than you can afford right now? “One thing you could do is make items, sell them, and donate the money,” says Miniutii.
It’s fairly common in the online craft community for people to announce that they’ll be donating a percentage of all sales from their Etsy shop to a particular cause. I think that’s terrific, but you need to be transparent. Are you donating all of the proceeds or just your profit? If you’re donating all of the proceeds, how are you paying for your materials? Keep in mind that you will be donating the money that would otherwise pay for your materials, listing fees, PayPal fees, and postage as well. Your donation has now created a loss for your business, which is okay if that’s what you want to do, but these are things to consider before you announce your intentions.
Photo by MoneyBlogNewz on Flickr.
Another common reaction to a tragedy in the news is for one craft blogger to start a drive of sorts. They’ll collect the handmade items, or the proceeds from sales of handmade items, and then make a single donation on the participants’ behalf. You should insist on transparency in this situation as well. If you’re part of a collective craft-it-and-sell-it for charity project, you might be better off sending the money to the charity yourself, instead of to another crafter, especially if they’re someone you don’t know well. And again, use Charity Navigator, or another resource, to check out the charity. Most charities are managed well by people with good intentions, but some are terribly inefficient and a few are straight out frauds.
In times of tragedy we want to come together as a community and take action, even in a small way. As Miniutti points out, “Sometimes people just need to do something. I think this is why runs and walks are so popular for health causes. They may not do much to enrich the charity’s bottom line,
but they give people an outlet to come together and do something.”
I think we should give to charity, as crafters and as people, but we should be sure to optimize our generosity by doing it right.
By way of disclaimer, my husband works for a large, regional charity as a fundraiser so there’s a lot of charitable fundraising and management talk in my house.