Friends and colleagues often ask me questions like, “should I give money to X organization that you have worked with?” and “if I want to support refugees and displaced persons, where should I give?” Since Thanksgiving is behind us, but Giving Tuesday is upon us, I thought I would take the opportunity to share the answers that I often give to these questions, starting with my quintessential “do your research” mantra.
More personally, last week, one of my refugee staff who had been relocated to the US was faced with eviction. My sister and I got a Friday-midnight text message from my friend obliquely explaining the situation. My sister sprung to action on Saturday morning and I have cried at least three times reading the donations list as high school friends and colleagues donated, and then people who follow me on twitter but I’ve never met in real life, and then people who I’ve never even interacted with on twitter opened up their wallets. Y’all are wow, just wow. I do not know how to begin to thank you and hope that my heart hugs reach you from way over here in the Mile High City. I know Eloco’s heart is also soaring.
Wherever and whether you decide to give, or not, on Giving Tuesday or any other day, I hope your Thanksgiving was filled with light and love and that it follows you into a bright, shiny New Year. This is my small way of paying it forward. Here we go.
- First and foremost, do some research. Before donating, read up on organizations through charity raters like Charity Navigator or the Catalogue for Philanthropy (DC-area only) or GiveWell. Newer, smaller, and local organizations (both in the US and in camps or other countries) may not be on lists like these, so take their recommendations with a grain of salt, but it’s always good to know what the consensus is on how organizations are using their money from available information and neutral (or as neutral as possible) evaluations. Keeping up on what the charities you want to support are doing takes precedent over all of what I have to say here.
- Decide what’s important to you and find an organization that does that. Do you want to support refugees in America? Or in camps? Or out-of-camp refugees? Specific camps? Specific populations? Do you want to support GBV or anti-violence programming or education or safe spaces for children or access to clean water? Do you want your money to go to immediate, need-action crises like the Rohingya or Mediterranean crossings? Or long-lasting, ongoing crises like the displaced Congolese or Somalis?
- Or just go with a big organization that does everything. There is plenty of need, so if you don’t have a specific cause and just want to help refugees, consider giving to a big organization that will put your gift towards where they need the most help. Big organizations, like the IRC or Oxfam or other groups that help resettle refugees, will be able to move funds around and devote some of their budget to higher-level advocacy and advertising, which can multiply the impact of your gift.
- Balance local and big-organization giving. If you live in New York or Boston or DC or Florida (or anywhere else with a large, existing PR community right now), you are likely seeing an influx of Puerto Ricans into your communities. With ongoing power outages and food and medicine shortages, many Puerto Ricans are moving to the mainland and they need all kinds of support. Local organizations that are on the ground are well positioned to assess their needs and provide those resources. Similarly, local organizations will have a good idea of which populations are already in your community and know what their needs are. There are almost certainly refugees from other countries being relocated in your community (and have been for some time); find out who is supporting them and feel free to contact them, be it New American Pathways, the IRC, or a small local church . For instance, Colorado has long had large Vietnamese and Russian refugee populations, but more recently seen influxes from Iraq, Burma, and Bhutan. I just learned about Street Fraternity Brotherhood in Denver, which works with young male immigrants and refugees, and while I cannot personally vouch for their work, I’m totally behind the idea. If you’re looking for a small organization on the ground in a camp or in a non-camp situation where there are lots of refugees, these exist, too, but go through contacts in-country to find them and make sure they money is going to where you think it’s going.
- Resist bandwagoning. Remember when the ACLU was inundated with donations earlier this year with the announcement of the refugee ban? It created awesome momentum and great press (and most accounts suggest that the ACLU has put that money to good use), but small organizations often cannot use all of those funds efficiently. If you’re inclined to donate to a particular cause that is getting a lot of attention, consider finding a smaller organization that works toward the same or similar cause but doesn’t have the big name or fundraising apparatus.
- Yeah, yeah, Erin, how about specifics? Okay, fine. (COI note: I do not benefit personally from any of these organizations, but I mention them because I have witnessed their work first-hand or know someone integral to their programming.)
- Upwardly Global works with highly educated immigrants (not just refugees) who are searching for opportunities that better match their skills in the US. Economists should love this one (reducing search and job mismatch frictions!)
- IRAP works across the country with volunteer lawyers to provide legal support for refugees.
- The IRC supports primary and secondary schools, marginalized populations, gender-based violence awareness and reporting, as well as high-level advocacy and resettlement in the US.
- MSF is always there, in the worst, most dangerous of situations.
- Oxfam provides clean water and sanitation education in many camps.
- UNFPA The family planning arm of the UN doesn’t solicit donations on the scale that UNHCR or UNICEF do (both of which do lots of work with refugees generally and education specifically and would also happily take your money), but I have been consistently impressed working with UNFPA at the caliber of their staff, their commitment to evidence-based programming, and their drive to reach the most vulnerable girls, wherever they happen to be working.
- Andi Leadership for Young Women supports peacebuilding and conflict resolution across cultures.
- “Every refugee in Atlanta comes through Clarkston at some point,” or so says my ATL-bound sister. Clarkston Community Center outside of Atlanta, GA provides bicycles, and computing and language classes in a community where many refugees first land. Clarkston Community Health Clinic offers free health services to the refugee population there, too.
- If you’d like to help more organizations that are on the ground and doing pathbreaking work, consider supporting an organization that identifies and supports social innovation start-ups like The Resolution Project or Echoing Green Fellowship. You may not be able to direct your money towards refugees in particular, but you will support social innovation around the world and beneficiaries are often working with refugees due to the increased publicity around displaced populations.
- Did you know that the CDC works on immigrant and refugee health? If you’re looking for a low-cost option to help, call your congresspeople and encourage them to support funding for the CDC and population-based surveys like the Census to make sure we know how best to serve these populations.
- Obviously, there are tons more organizations that work in camps and as resettlement organizations and to support refugees here and abroad. This list should not be considered exhaustive in any way nor should it be used to dissuade you if you were going to go with someone else. Also, if I failed to include an organization here, it probably just means I am not personally familiar with their work.
Last but not least, Eloco’s family is still in need. If that story in particular resonates with you and you’d like to help an individual or a family, let me know. I would be happy to introduce you to a number of refugees all over East Africa and in America who are constantly asking me to “keep them in mind” and to “search for a benefactor” for them. One trying to set up a milk business in Burundi, another setting up rotating savings and credit associations for war widows in Nyarugusu camp, another trying to go to school in Uganda, another trying to get into a Ph.D. program in Cameroon, etc.
All my love and gratitude.