Haiti: Red Cross blog post on why donating cash is better than donating "stuff"

"First let me debunk a couple of myths, starting with the principle that 'anything is better than nothing'. Trust me, it's not. Relieving suffering should be guided solely by need and not what people have to donate." —Claire Durham at Red Cross Blog, on why cash is better than your janky, tattered old yoga mat.


  1. We need this to go out to a lot of people. Thanks Xeni! I will link to this post. Claire’s quote needs to be heeded, give to the need, don’t give because you need to give.
    Our church is trying to mobilize items for Haiti. Your post is helpful. Thanks for the link.

  2. The real question is, are they still paying their ceo/president over half a million dollars a year to run a non-profit? If so, then they don’t need my cash.

    1. The blog post this links to is from the British Red Cross, by the way. Most people here seem to think it’s American Red Cross.

      Also, as musicman points out, people *can* donate stuff to help Haiti by giving it to Red Cross shops where it will be sold and the proceeds given to Haiti – it’s not a contradiction, it’s simply the case that cash is what’s needed most and can help most. Physical donations are most effective when turned into cash, not when they need to be shipped overseas.

  3. @cortana, because charities don’t exist in a marketless vaccum. If the Red Cross doesn’t pay their CEOs a salary high enough to stop the guy from leaving for another company or even another charity, then the Red Cross will suffer from losing the CEO’s expertise, whatever it may be.

  4. Bottom line, do people in haiti need or not somewhere to lie down and rest? Maybe what you call an old tattered yoga mat is the difference between sleeping on the floor or feeling at least a bit more comfortable.

    Crap that is completely unuseful: wedding dresses, formal wear and bathing suits. I’ve seen people donate that kind of junk.

    1. Bottom line, do people in haiti need or not somewhere to lie down and rest?

      Bottom~er line, who’s going to get your yoga mat to Haiti?

    1. There are plenty of folks out there that would do great running a large organization without needing obscene pay.

      But, in reality, when it comes time to call the super-rich to ask for donations, they only take phone calls from their ilk. That’s why charitable boards tend to be composed of old money dowagers and captains of industry. It’s not because they’re particularly competent or particularly charitable. It’s because they have the keys to the vault.

      1. Likely true. Possibly apocryphal, but when Bush the Lesser first ran for office, his funding mechanism was to hit up everyone on his mother’s Christmas card list for cash. While everyone can be president, some of us are can be president more than others.

        1. Political donations =! Charitable donations.

          I believe the phrase the kids are using is ‘obvious troll is obvious’?

          1. I believe the phrase the kids are using is ‘obvious troll is obvious’?

            Actually, if you follow the conversation that Snig was engaged in, that a person’s status leads to the ability to call on other people-of-status for money, it wasn’t trolling at all.

          2. Actually, Snig has no programming background and so can no longer follow the conversation Snig is engaged in. But, no, not intentionally trolling, so thank you.

          3. “Political donations =! Charitable donations.”

            Furthermore, that line will generate a runtime error. You want to enter:

            Political donations != Charitable donations

            Or better still:

            Political donations !== Charitable donations

            to test for exact type. You can thank me later.

    2. “Personally I don’t subscribe to the pay through the nose to the CEO or they’ll leave theory. There are plenty of folks out there that would do great running a large organization without needing obscene pay.”

      $565,000 for a CEO obscene? Really?

  5. When I get a call for donations, I offer my time. I know several people who run nonprofits, and the hardest thing for them to find are volunteers to do grunt work.

    Anyone who turns me down gets none of my money- If they aren’t grateful for (skilled!) free labor, you’d have a hard time convincing me they aren’t a scam.

  6. @ Florsie;
    Two questions:

    1. How much do you think it *costs* for someone to collect and send your ratty-ass yoga mat to where it’s needed, and to distribute it in an orderly fashion? Or is your fictitious yoga mat already in Haiti?

    2. Would that money (the cost of getting it there), by itself, be more valuable to that person who supposedly wants your yoga mat?

    You can’t seriously believe that your garbage, less the transit costs, is worth anything at all in Haiti.

  7. Just so we’re clear, the Red Cross likely needs cash, but that doesn’t mean other charities don’t want your used junk. Places like the salvation army and goodwill have the infrastructure in place to take that stuff and sell it.

    The Red Cross has a different focus, so understandably they have different uses for the cash. Reserve your cash for the red cross if you want, but don’t assume other charities don’t have need for your other stuff.

  8. I can see why it would not be appropriate to fly stuff all the way to the other end of the earth. What the Red Cross need to do is to accept donations that are of any value, and sell them in the same country. Second hand clothing stores, etc. Then transfer the money to Haiti.

    Perhaps the problem is that people do not want the Red Cross to sell the stuff they donated. They might not want to see the things they donated in their own local thrift store a week later. Or the Red Cross’ own internal rules prevents it from reselling things it receives as donation.

  9. What the Red Cross need to do is to accept donations that are of any value, and sell them in the same country.

    The value of a used yoga mat being zero dollars and zero cents. You can get a new mat at Marshall’s for $8. Minus the imbued ass juice with concomitant pathogens. Donating a used yoga mat, or any other trash, means taking money out of the charity’s pocket because they have to haul it and pay the dump fees.

    That’s why I don’t, for instance, donate 1980s vintage sponge painting and hi-carb diet books to the library. They have no way to unload them. Crap like that goes in the street with a big sign that says FREE. If nobody picks it up by Sunday evening, it goes in the recycling bin or the trash can.

    1. musicman & dainel– as this article’s author and the author of “Your unwanted ‘stuff’ can save lives in Haiti” both point out, the Red Cross operates thrift shops across the UK. Second-hand items donated to those shops can be earmarked specifically for the Haiti relief effort. Donated in the UK and sold in the UK, these items do not leave the retail arm of the Red Cross, and do not gum up the larger relief effort.

      Imagine an air freight container of used yoga mats being wheeled off the plane in Haiti, and the reeking stench when the container is opened. Surprise, Haitians! You were hoping for water treatment equipment, food, or portable shelters, but instead you got garbage! This is how disconnected we First Worlders are from your plight.

  10. Musicman, that post is about donating things to be sold in the Red Cross Shops; stuff that people will buy.

    Claire Durham’s post is about people’s expectations of being able to get their stuff to Haiti, and also about donated medicines, food and medical equipment, which cannot be sold in their shops.

  11. Yoga mats are almost exactly the same as closed cell foam camping mats. Get a used shipping container (they are cheap) fill it with mats and all you need to fundraise is a truck to drive it to an east coast port and shipping to Haiti. Cash is more utilitarian, but free sleeping(yoga) mats or a shipping container of canned food loaded by volunteers is still very useful to people in Haiti.

    During WW-II the story goes that the Americans or British accepted thousands of tons of some kind of junk metal kitchen pot, it was useless even as scrap and they ended up burying them. They accepted them though because it made these housewives in the middle of an economic depression who were sacrificing part of their kitchen feel that they were an important part of the war effort.

  12. You can find a quote to support anything.
    Everyone knows that. Furthermore, if someone has
    room for them, what’s the harm in survivors being
    given something so they don’t have to sleep on the
    bare ground?

    When did BoingBoing become so snarky and negative?

  13. I’m so glad that this topic is still being debated. I’m such a passionate believer in stopping unwanted goods arriving in a disaster zone, hence my blog. A HUGE thank you for keeping this going, I’d love to get this message out to the whole world! Claire Durham

  14. IF you disagree with the salary of a charity’s CEO or other paid “volunteers” make sure to write “For X Relief effort” in the memo on your cheque. Money that is donated to a specific cause must be spent on said cause under law.
    That way none of your money is given to people who don’t need it

    1. @#27: And the administrative costs for your donation are then deducted from someone else’s contribution. No net impact from restricting your donation. If you don’t like how a charity operates, find a different one…

  15. Millions have lost everything in the quake – homes, food, jobs! For the next 12 months, the World Food Programme says 2 million people will need critical food assistance! If you want to help and learn more about the crisis response, go to: http://wfp.org/crisis/haiti> or you can text FRIENDS to 90999 to make a $5 donation.

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