Responding to Haiti

Yes, everyone seems to be jumping on the disaster bandwagon. You’d have to be living in a cave to escape the media debate over Israel’s rapid response setting up and staffing an Israeli army hospital in Port-au-Prince. My synagogue is having a (kosher) bake sale to encourage kids to get involved, and Thursday night (Jan. 28) a Yiddish concert was held to help that unluckiest of nations.

If the benefit got people to give who wouldn’t have given otherwise and if a large percentage of the money raised went to an effective
charity, then nice going.

But not so nice when charities rush to a disaster site just to get face time.

I don’t know if this applies to the list of Jewish charities getting involved in helping Haiti, but I would sure check out the most effective way to contribute.

Charity Navigator, one of the main charity watchdogs, makes a fine place to start. (Although nothing is ever simple. Starting next year, Charity Navigator will be replacing the traditional approach of measuring the ratio of money a charity spends on administration and money spent on programs with actually measuring the charity’s effectiveness. But, alas, when it comes to Haiti we can’t wait.)

The one Jewish organization that gets top Haiti billing from Charity Navigator is American Jewish World Service. For one thing, AJWS has been working with local partners on the ground in Haiti for years with programs that make sense.

The AJWS earthquake relief efforts are being carried out by their local partners, and their long-term projects – when world concern has turned to the next crisis – are just what the country desperately needs. The projects include agricultural development with training for women’s peasant organizations.

AJWS President Ruth Messinger is impressive. Back when I was working for Women’s American ORT, I got to see her response to disaster fund-raising projects up close. Our organizations were among the dozen or so Jewish organizations that would set up special campaigns to raise money responding to specific crises. Ruth was the one executive who would come with carefully researched projects that could be immediately implemented and would make a difference. And many of these were for women.

Back to Haiti.

Even without a horrific earthquake, Haiti desperately needs help now and into the future. In the coming year or two or 10, Charity Navigator can be expected to evaluate just how effective American Jewish World Service and all the competing philanthropic programs are. Meanwhile, if you want to give money through a Jewish organization, AJWS seems a worthy channel.

–Amy Stone.