By Janice Petrovich, EdD
Executive Director of the Puerto Rico Funders Network
Immediately following Hurricanes Irma and Maria, thousands of Puerto Ricans spontaneously made the commitment to assist and attend to their immediate communities and even neighboring municipalities. Volunteers cleared roads, cleaned up their local schools, cooked and delivered food to neighbors, and collected and distributed clothing, medicine, water and other necessities. These volunteer efforts and the outpouring of support from all over the world have been encouraging counterbalances to the devastation of Puerto Rico. Thousands of Puerto Ricans in the diaspora and friends of Puerto Rico around the world have dedicated time and effort, and helped garner broader support. Over 100 funds have been created to raise money and collect essential items for the benefit of those most affected by the hurricanes. If we’ve learned anything from this difficult experience, it’s that Puerto Rico has a vast network of people who care. This is heartening and encouraging.
Puerto Rico’s local community-based organizations deserve special recognition. During this crisis they have managed to reach with great efficiency the most remote and unattended parts of the island. This has been a most effective philanthropic effort because it has been done directly, addressing needs first-hand, and seeing the immediate effect of that help. Those who are not near and unable provide direct help are often supporting the efforts of organizations. In these cases, the most effective course of action is to support reliable local organizations, with roots in their communities. They know the needs of their communities and as our recent experience in Puerto Rico demonstrates, their capacity to respond is substantially more efficient.
Many of those who are interested in helping Puerto Rico from afar may do so by donating directly to trustworthy organizations, or through an established fund. When considering making a donation, it is important to ask some important questions:
- How much of my donation is retained by the organization for operational expenses or as an “administrative fee”? It’s preferable to choose organizations and funds that retain very little of the donation or, even better, to make sure the full donation is used for its intended purpose.
- How is the distribution of donations handled? Essential items (food, clothing, medicines, water, etc.) require an efficient chain of distribution. Someone must receive these items and transport them. And once goods arrive at their destination, someone must be in charge of distributing the donations equitably. This requires trucks, fuel and drivers. It can be a complex process, particularly during an emergency. This is why experts in crisis management recommend donating money instead of goods. Money can be used to buy the needed supplies locally, multiplying the impact of a donation by generating local economic activity.
- Is my donation tax deductible? Donations made to organizations registered as nonprofits in Puerto Rico are tax deductible when filing taxes in Puerto Rico. If you reside in the United States, your contribution can be tax deductible when the organization receiving the funds has a 501c3 tax designation as a nonprofit organization.
- How can I make sure my donation is used for efforts that will help Puerto Rico overcome this crisis? When you make your donation, check that the organization managing the fund has experience, a good reputation and has in place a clear decision making process for how they will use the donations.Internationally, there are innumerable examples of the value and importance of a local and organized philanthropic response when a disaster strikes. Sadly, too many times large amounts of resources are raised, but they fail to get to where they are needed. Past experience demonstrates that the best use of philanthropic dollars is to invest in organizations rooted in the affected communities and with a proven work record that guarantees a distribution chain of solid, efficient and transparent help.
Janice Petrovich is the executive director of the Puerto Rico Funders Network. The Network created the FORWARD Puerto Rico Fund, which receives donations from foundation in Puerto Rico, the United States and abroad, and from individuals to support local, community-based nonprofit organizations.