How to give to Burma

100,000 people may have died in Burma. The survivors need our help.

After the attention engendered by my last post, I did some googling for options on how best to give to victims of Cyclone Nargis in Burma. Here are the three organizations I recommend:

1) The International Burmese Monks Organization. The were founded in October 2007 by Burmese monks in exile. It’s a new group, but deeply rooted in Burma. They may not be able to do fascinating and innovative aid programs, but they will be able to move money and food to people who need it. You can donate at Avaaz.

2) Save the Children. They have been in country for more than a decade, and they are a deeply experienced relief and development agency. They are very professional, and they are good at linking their relief work to long-term development needs. Donate here.

3) World Vision. Another very professional organization, who have been in Burma since 1958. They are deeply Christian. This does not affect who they provide services to, but it does affect their hiring. If you are uncomfortable with that, give to Save the Children instead. Donate to World Vision here.

When you donate, please consider giving to the organization’s general fund instead of limiting your donation to Burma. Relief agencies are already responding to the cyclone, and they are doing that using their own general funds; nobody has enough Burma-specific donations yet. Without unrestricted donations, they would not be able to buy supplies and hire their response staff.

If you give to the unrestricted fund, you’ll help Burma now and help prepare for other emergencies in the future.

Why I am not giving to Myanmar yet (and some thoughts on social media)

Beth Kanter is one of my heroes and she’s one of the reasons I am on Twitter. Today she asked me to blog or tweet about the BlogHer Myanmar giving effort. And I didn’t. And I felt like a total jerk because, dude, it’s BETH KANTER. And she’s amazing.

But it’s too soon for me to give any money, or ask others to do so. Global Giving has not chosen a recipient yet for Myanmar funds. If you look at their Myanmar page, there is no recipient listed. I confirmed by calling them. Eventually they’ll pick out a recipient organization who’ll provide aid to Myanmar, but there is no chosen organization yet. If I give now, my money will just sit with Global Giving. I might as well have it sit with me while I review NGOs and not pay the 10% fee to Global Giving.

There is another reason not to give money too soon. Some disaster relief NGOs will collect money for an emergency in a location where they have no established presence and if they receive enough, they will start an operation there. If they don’t receive enough money, they’ll just donate the money to another NGO. (Usually after taking their own overhead). It’s a pretty standard practice. If you go to the list of NGOs accepting donations for Myanmar, you’ll see that many of them have no current presence on the ground.

So, by donating now I am at risk for moving it through two pass-throughs – Global Giving and a second NGO before it goes to a group which is operational in Myanmar. (To be fair, I don’t know what Global Giving’s rules are – they may not allow a non-operational organization to receive money. Their website doesn’t make it clear.) [Edited to add: The COO of Global Giving commented on this post, and linked to their due diligence policy, which explains their criteria for selecting organizational partners.]

The best way to give, in my opinion, is to check out NGO websites until you find one that already has a presence in Myanmar, and give to them. I suggest World Vision. Yes, they are faith-based to a somewhat creepy degree, but they have been in Burma since 1958. I’ve worked with them in several locations, and they are very professional and run excellent programs.

(Oh, and here’s my social media thought: turning down a request like Beth’s from someone you respect is nearly impossible. I have work to do tonight, but I had to put this blog post up first, just to live with myself.)