How can I help?

Guest blogger Jennifer Tolle Whiteside is the CEO and president of the North Carolina Community Foundation, an organization that takes a mid- to long-range view of providing disaster relief. If you are interested in giving to the NCCF Disaster Relief Fund, which charges no administrative fees for collecting donations or allocating grants, visit this page on their website for more information.

That overwhelming feeling of wanting to help. It washes over you.

I know you. You have felt this too. Many of you reading this blog are working and volunteering in the nonprofit sector. You are good people. You are even what we could term professionally good people. You are good people who many times tell yourselves you should be doing more.

Immediately following Hurricane Matthew there were social media posts for help and support.  You read them too, I am sure. And my tendency is to want to get to the flooded areas as soon as possible and bring food and water and blankets and to help rescue and bail water and just do something meaningful and immediate. Some activity that says that you heard; you are helping; you are making a difference. Something.

It is a similar reaction to when you learn that someone you care about is sick. You want to help and to fix. And often we do not know the right thing to do.  Sometimes we default to “please let me know if there is something I can do to help.”  But knowing in your heart of hearts that generally people will not actually tell you what they need because they are too overwhelmed, or proud or scared, or do not want to be a burden or just do not know the answer.  So the person who wants to help is left with a feeling of making an empty gesture, to no avail.  Many times we just decide that we are going to do something anyway, and cooking or cleaning or driving helps us feel useful, that we are making a difference.

We at the North Carolina Community Foundation faced that feeling in the immediate aftermath of the Hurricane Matthew disaster.  Many of our staff members live in affected areas and were dealing with their own immediate needs. Yet I saw several of them ready to throw on boots and get in the car to deliver supplies to others in need. Never mind that they’d been without electricity for a week.

There is no end to needs following a disaster. Many are immediate.  Some are mid-term. And a huge number, as with this particular disaster, will be long-term in nature.  There will continue to be work we can do and help that we can provide. Whether it’s collecting supplies, delivering them and rolling up our sleeves, now – or raising money to replace damaged school equipment or help to build low-income housing, there is plenty of need to go around.

And donating money is not a bad thing. Donating money is not a cop out, or even an easy way out. It is an act of kindness and an act of hope. And it fuels the very missions of those organizations geared up to serve after catastrophes. Sometimes we just need to be clear and honest and say that donating money is what is needed most.

It is critical for success in any organization to be clear about its mission, to be clear about its role in order to be effective. And this might mean saying no to offers of help or even dollars if designated for activities that are off-mission. This is perhaps never more evident to us at NCCF than during the aftermath of a disaster.

Our role in this work at NCCF is to raise and distribute funds that will support mid- and long-term recovery efforts in areas that were the most impacted by Matthew and related flooding in eastern North Carolina.

It is not our role at NCCF to provide water and blankets and food and immediate shelter.  These are all incredibly important things, with many boots-on-the-ground organizations ready to provide these services.  Yes, we support and partner with them when needed, particularly in the absence of any local resources.

Being clear about your mission is important for your donors.  Those who give to the NCCF Disaster Relief Fund know we are not handing out blankets or water. But we are supporting those nonprofit programs that will be there for unmet needs, long after the electricity is back on and the mold is scrubbed clean.

Everyone has a role to play in helping to strengthen communities.  Some are to meet immediate needs. Others have a mission to take a longer view.

There is no right or wrong answer. Donations big and small, for immediate or the long-term – all are needed and all make a difference.

The work and needs around disaster relief run this gamut. How you help is up to you.

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