How to deal with tragedies


By Mary Beth Harrington, CVA

Tragedy is always a painful event, but even more heartbreaking when it occurs so close to the holidays. Recently we have seen tornado devastation in the Midwest, the strongest typhoon to hit the Philippines, and locally four buildings were demolished in a fire in downtown Olympia.

When these catastrophes happen, many things happen; First there is the outpouring of thoughts and prayers, and then fundraising is started for these well-meaning people to donate their cupboards and pantries. Next is the organization of emergency funds – followed by negative comments about how these emergency funds are managed.

What you can do

As someone who has worked on national disasters, I can assure you that the victims need your thoughts, prayers, and cash donations to reputable local and national nonprofits. I saw first-hand (it’s plural) storage warehouses still full of clothes, diapers, bleach, and cleaning supplies donated intended for Hurricane Katrina victims who never been sent. It was not the fault of any organization that received the items; it is simply physically impossible to coordinate the sorting and distribution of so many items (often dirty and used). Also, keep in mind that you really don’t need any cleaning supplies if you’re out of a home. I know I can sound like a “nelly negative” this holiday season, but I would prefer those of you who want to show your support to know how to really make a difference.

Money speaks louder than socks

By far, donating money to approved emergency funds is the best way to help victims of a tragedy. As I said last week, when it comes to food banks, nonprofits can convert your dollars into food, clothing, and other essentials that can support victims of tragedies much more effectively than you and I. .

Nonprofits also recognize that there is a window of support and they will often withhold some resources when donations run dry (when was the last time you donated to Haiti?). I know people who are still suffering from the tornadoes that wreaked havoc in Dallas in 2019. The news has practically stopped talking about this tragedy (except for an occasional birthday story), but families still need support and they go through it. local emergency response funds began just after the tornadoes returned to the clouds.

A donation is good – a monthly donation has an impact

People in the Midwest, the Philippines and downtown Olympia will not be healed immediately. It will take years for them to recover what they have lost. Therefore, please consider converting your donation to a monthly contribution instead of making a one-time donation. If you’re afraid you’ll forget you’ve done this (like subscribing to a streaming channel), mark on your calendar to review your donations in six months. Setting up a monthly contribution allows nonprofits to better define how they manage the funds received.

Where to donate

  • American Red Cross (ARC) – Yes, it’s still one of the best places to donate after a tragedy. I can (and probably will) write entire columns about how the stories of CRA mismanagement are unfounded. You can donate to the general fund which allows the CRA to use your funds in the most efficient way or donate to a specific emergency fund which ensures that your funds will only benefit those affected by this. specific tragedy (this is called a designated gift).
  • Thurston County United Way (UWTC) – activated its Emergency Response Fund to provide direct assistance to those affected by the fire in downtown Olympia. According to Chris Wells, Executive Director of UWTC, “We will coordinate and work in partnership with the City of Olympia leadership to identify unmet needs and provide rapid financial assistance to meet those needs. “
  • GoFundMe campaigns. While GoFundMe campaigns are not non-profit, they provide a way for individuals to help others. The vast majority of these campaigns are legitimate, but be sure to do your research before contributing. For a list of local campaigns, see our story.

Blood donation also works

Bloodworks Northwest If you aren’t able to donate money (and even if you are), a wonderful way to show your support for victims of tragedy is to donate blood. Blood centers like our own Bloodworks Northwest are working together to ensure that all parts of the United States have the amounts of blood they need to save lives. I was working at the Dallas Blood Bank when the Oklahoma City bombing happened, and I saw with my own eyes how many citizens came to donate to show their support for the victims. It may surprise you, but there is still no substitute for blood. If the blood supply is low, emergency surgeries and even life-saving treatments may be canceled. During the holidays, the need for blood increases due to more elective surgeries and accidents, so for whatever reason, please consider the last few weeks of the year to donate blood. Each blood donation has the potential to save four lives.

Solicit your ideas

If you know of a non-profit organization that is doing something right, celebrating success, needing exceptional volunteers, or hosting an event, let me know! This column (aside from a little education) celebrates nonprofits!

Mary Beth Harrington, CVA (Certified Volunteer Administrator) lives in Tumwater. She travels the country speaking at conferences and individual organizations to articulate the issues facing nonprofits. Send him your ideas at [email protected]


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