Like so many issues discussed on KineSophy, the COVID-19 pandemic affects us all in myriad spheres of life, from health to social interactions to economics to ethics. Faced with illness, the loss of a job, loneliness and fear, many people are struggling just to make it through the next day or week. For those in a better financial and physical position looking to respond to this crisis, here are my recommendations for the top charities supporting COVID-19 relief.
These recommendations are based on my personal research into dozens of charities, but they are only recommendations. If you have a charity you like and can afford to contribute, please do so. We’re all in this together, and every little bit really does help. That said, I believe the following organizations have a strong track record of outstanding humanitarian work that continues with their support of COVID-19 relief.
GiveDirectly provides cash donations directly to those in the greatest poverty around the globe. Among charities in all fields, GiveDirectly stands out for the rigorous self-evaluation of their work. They monitor the effects of their cash transfers and have found that recipients overwhelmingly use the money to provide for their basic needs, such as by building or repairing housing or purchasing livestock. Furthermore, recipients of these transfers show consistent increases in their future earnings and the values of their assets.
The nonprofit charity evaluator GiveWell, which studies how much good an organization accomplishes per dollar spent, regularly ranks GiveDirectly as one of its top charities. This ranking is especially significant because GiveWell only recognizes five to ten top charities each year. In addition, Charity Navigator, another charity evaluator, awarded GiveDirectly a perfect score in its latest assessment. Charity Navigator evaluates charities on how efficiently they will use their support, how well they have sustained their programs and services over time, and their level of commitment to good governance, best practices and openness with information, and rates charities on their financial well-being and accountability and transparency.
GiveDirectly is supporting COVID-19 relief on two fronts. In the United States, the organization will allocate $1,000 donations to households on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (most of which are single mother-homes) with a focus on populations in need who could be missed or underserved by other programs. Donors can contribute to the United States generally or to households in the San Francisco Bay Area, New York City, Las Vegas or Seattle. Internationally, Give Directly will start with donations to people in need in Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Malawi, Liberia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In the past, Give Directly has made their cash transfers electronically, which would limit face-to-face interaction and help prevent the spread of the virus.
In my research of more than twenty disaster relief organizations, I found Direct Relief to be one of the most effective charities, especially for U.S.-based disasters. They equip doctors and nurses in the United States and internationally with life-saving medical resources to care for the most vulnerable populations. In the most recent assessment, Direct Relief earned a four-star rating from Charity Navigator (the highest rating given). They also earned an A grade from CharityWatch, which evaluates charities on the percent of total expenses a charity spends on its programs and how much it costs the charity to bring in public donations.
In response to COVID-19, Direct Relief is coordinating with public health authorities, non-profit organizations and businesses to provide personal protective equipment (PPE, which includes protective masks, gloves and isolation gowns) and other medical items from its own stock of equipment to healthcare workers across the U.S. In addition, Direct Relief is staging PPE with regional response agencies in the Caribbean and South America in conjunction with the Pan American Health Organization. They will also provide medication for people with chronic conditions like hypertension, diabetes, and asthma to protect those most vulnerable to COVID-19 and lessen the burden on healthcare facilities.
Direct Relief has a long-standing relationship with a Chinese manufacturer that sells them N95 masks at a fraction of what it would cost to purchase them from a third-party vendor. With the pandemic easing in China, Direct Relief is receiving masks from this supplier in fulfillment of a previous order. As supplies of medical items become scarce, Direct Relief has opened its storage and distribution network to any company or institution that wants to donate PPE to U.S. health care workers (free of charge). Many private companies have started to make PPE instead of their normal products, and Direct Relief offers a ready-made humanitarian supply chain to distribute medical items to health facilities in need. Direct Relief is also working to acquire donations of medications that could be in short supply as hospitals become inundated with COVID-19 patients.
Current monetary donations to Direct Relief will be used for the procurement of items (such as oxygen concentrators) to supplement those received from donations. Monetary donations will also fund shipment of medical supplies like injectable intravenous (IV) fluids, IV and oral antibiotics, vasopressor therapies, and anti-malarial therapies to hospitals around the U.S. Perhaps most importantly, Direct Relief does not compete with government agencies, hospitals or health care systems for these critical resources. Instead, they help these institutions identify gaps in the supply chain and base their response on what’s needed.
Doctors Without Borders
Doctors Without Borders works around the world to deliver emergency medical aid to people affected by conflict, epidemics, disasters or exclusion from health care. They have a four-star rating from Charity Navigator and an A grade from CharityWatch. And though it did not include Doctors Without Borders as one of its top charities, GiveWell praised Doctors Without Borders, saying, “we continue to hold a positive view of [Doctors Without Borders], and expect to recommend them in future disaster-relief situations.”
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Doctors Without Borders is maintaining its regular medical programs around the world while working with local authorities to combat COVID-19. In particular, Doctors Without Borders is continuing its current humanitarian relief in displaced persons camps in Nigeria and Syria, where overcrowding and limited hygiene essentials make it easier to contract and spread the virus.
However, it does not appear that you can direct a donation to Doctors Without Borders specifically for COVID-19 relief. According to their website, “Unrestricted funds allow us to allocate our resources most efficiently and where the needs are greatest.” But given the breadth of the pandemic, I would guess there is a great need for funding to fight COVID-19. And even if Doctors Without Borders does not direct your donation to COVID-19 relief, they will use it to treat other health issues. Doing so will protect those patients from being vulnerable to COVID-19 and free up other medical personnel to deal with the pandemic.
In my assessment of disaster relief charities, I found GlobalGiving to be one of the most effective organizations at responding to international disasters. GlobalGiving connects nonprofits, donors and companies in nearly every country around the world, helping smaller, local nonprofits access the tools, training and support they need to be more effective in responding to disasters. They also have a four-star rating from Charity Navigator.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, GlobalGiving is sending healthcare workers to communities in need, providing masks, ventilators and other lifesaving medical supplies to hospitals and clinics, delivering essential items to struggling families and older individuals in quarantined cities and refugee camps, and feeding children who rely on school meals. GlobalGiving is also preparing long-term recovery efforts, including building stronger response capacities in communities around the world to make us better equipped to face future outbreaks.
Importantly, GlobalGiving does not directly procure medical supplies, food or other resources. Instead, they support partner organizations in areas of need with grants. The partner organizations then source and provide the necessary resources. Given the nature of this pandemic, I do have some concerns about donating to GlobalGiving at this time, even though I have great respect for the organization as a whole. But without knowing where medical supplies are coming from and how and where healthcare workers are being deployed, I worry about competition for supplies and putting healthcare workers at even greater risk.
However, my assessment of GlobalGiving as an organization remains favorable, and I believe the ramifications of COVID-19 will continue well after the pandemic ends. For that reason, I recommend contributing to GlobalGiving at a later date in support of long-term COVID-19 relief. I believe that as the healthcare impact of this virus decreases, local organizations like those supported by GlobalGiving will prove essential in aiding other aspects of recovery.
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