3 Ways Volunteers Can Maximize Their Impact During Disasters

Guest post by James Chiq

Disaster VolunteerIn light of recent earthquakes in Japan and Ecuador, people around the world are seeking ways to aid those affected by natural disasters, either from afar or in person. But good intentions can — and sometimes do — get in the way of actual relief efforts.

“Voluntourism” is a popular method of volunteering on a short-term basis while experiencing parts of the world: Providing opportunities for the well-intentioned to simultaneously assist in disaster-stricken areas and explore outside the boundaries of their own country.

In order to ensure your contributions are impactful and reach those who truly need your aid, volunteers can approach their efforts in the following ways:

1. Be Realistic About Your Goals and Capabilities

In the wake of disasters, it’s important to recognize and acknowledge the extent to which you can help. Whether you’re planning to donate money, sponsor a volunteer, or offer your time and labor to help bring relief to affected areas, you should consider your contribution carefully.

Is your contribution in dire need at the site of the disaster or are you giving blindly? If conditions do not improve after a given period of time, will you continue to support those affected by the disaster? These are difficult questions to ask yourself, but giving them considerable thought before making a commitment to a charitable cause can help ensure resources are distributed effectively and in a responsible manner.

2. Do Your Research Before Giving

While some organizations tend to focus on the big picture of disaster relief efforts, smaller, less-marketed organizations provide specialized aid to those impacted by disasters and tragedy. The United Way and Red Cross are the biggest players in disaster relief efforts, yet there are plenty of organizations that provide much-needed aid in various and specific ways.

Experts say to be wary of urgent requests for aid from unknown organizations or individuals. A report in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina cites several identified scams such as phone and email campaigns requesting cash donations for emergency medical shelters.These were created to try and siphon money to private citizens or organizations. Tools like the Federal Trade Commission’s list of charity scams can help direct and guide gifts to honest, reputable organizations.

3. Keep Helping

Too often volunteer disaster relief efforts are left unfinished due to organizational issues and strict volunteer timelines for departure — especially in the immediate wake of a disaster. A year after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast of the United States, the Corporation for National and Community Service reported that more than half a million American citizens volunteered their time and energy to rebuilding devastated areas in the American South. Unfortunately, some of the damage caused by Katrina remains and countless homes were left abandoned long after the storm had passed.

Tens of thousands of individuals are referred to disaster-stricken areas in times of need, but the organization and coordination challenges of utilizing that amount of manpower often complicate the entire process (as does the inexperience of volunteers in question).

Nonprofits can go beyond their central mission and provide guidance and opportunities for volunteers to help in their own way. By encouraging those not directly affiliated with their organizations to pitch in and lend a hand, relief efforts can be more organized and directed no matter the size and scale of the disaster in question. Providing detailed information about other charity organizations assisting in the area may help provide higher-quality, more engaged volunteers to those organizations and groups that are truly in need.

With any luck, they’ll reciprocate in the future and a more collaborative, mutually beneficial relationship between aid groups working in disaster-ridden areas will develop. Those collective efforts could make an even greater impact on affected communities in the future.

About the author:
James is an avid volunteer. He wants to keep volunteers and volunteer managers engaged and knowledgeable through action and informed research.

Here’s How to Help Typhoon Haiyan Relief Efforts…Even If You’re Not Rich

How to help Typhoon Haiyan relief efforts...even if you're not rich.The reports coming from the Phillippines and Vietnam are painting a horrifying picture of devastation and desperation, as hundreds of thousands are left without the basic necessities of life. It’s impossible not to be moved to take action when faced with human suffering at this magnitude.

Since the storm struck, many people have contacted VolunteerMatch for advice on how to help. Yesterday one person emailed asking how to get her classroom involved, since soliciting donations directly from students is not necessarily appropriate. Another community member tweeted, asking if there are ways to go and volunteer.


We are all feeling that urge to find ways to do more, to go there and volunteer our time and sweat and passion. As we’ve covered before in the aftermath of previous disasters, however, volunteering your time is often not the most effective way to help disaster relief efforts. During this critical period the organizations on the ground need trained professionals, and they need money. Even donations of goods make things difficult, as they are costly to ship and complicated to distribute.

Bottom line: The best way to help the victims of Typhoon Haiyan is to donate in support of the relief efforts. So we’re back to where we started, NOT being rich.

We have the perfect volunteer opportunity for you: Become a volunteer fundraiser for Typhoon Haiyan relief!

Raising money from your friends, family and community is an important way to volunteer. You can mobilize your volunteers and other community members (even students) to join in the effort.

Fundraising for disaster relief may not be what your organization normally focuses on every day, but rallying your community to help after this awful disaster will build teamwork and energize people to stay involved.

Check out the posts below to learn how to engage your supporters as volunteer fundraisers:

Are you and/or your organization doing something special to support Typhoon Haiyan relief efforts? Tell us about it in the comments!

Volunteer Engagement for Disasters: How American Red Cross Trains Its New Responders

Guest post by Heather Nelson

American Red Cross provides extensive training for its disaster response volunteers prior to a disaster - so everyone is ready when the time comes.The Red Cross responds to approximately 70,000 disasters yearly, according to organization records and public information. Responding immediately to natural and human-made disasters such as hurricanes, floods, fires, and chemical spills demands an enormous volunteer force.

People who choose to join the volunteer ranks with the American Red Cross and other relief agencies must undergo extensive training and preparation in order to provide safe, efficient services. One important aspect of training is preparing volunteers for national deployment. If your nonprofit engages volunteers in location-based projects, the practices employed by the Red Cross could be helpful for you.

Training for the Mission – Provide Contextual Information

The Red Cross has a unique charter, which requires certain response actions and protocol mandated by the federal government. In order to remain consistent, the organization offers extensive training to volunteers in myriad areas. From telephone answering, to providing street delivery of meals to clients impacted by a disaster, each volunteer receives instructions on how and when to provide services.

Training sessions are taught in a classroom setting, but locations vary, from local and regional offices to churches and schools, depending on the community. After completion of each course, volunteers receive cards that show the certification date and issuing center. Volunteers present this card when they arrive at a disaster location as proof they are ready to deliver service to clients. Updating skills and continuing education are ongoing activities for all volunteers with the American Red Cross.

Requirements for Volunteering – Setting Clear Expectations

Volunteers from all walks of life are encouraged to participate. Although there are youth programs, the minimum age for deployment is 18. Individuals must provide information for a background check, current medical history and proof of identity.

Accurate contact information is vital. Providing an email address and all contact numbers makes it efficient to reach you during an emergency. It’s recommended to find cheap cellphone plans at T-Mobile or another provider and designate one phone number for Red Cross access.


One of the primary attributes of the American Red Cross and its volunteers is always being ready to respond immediately when needed. In addition to continually updating skills, individuals available for national deployment often keep a well-stocked deployment “go-bag” ready at all times.

Coordinating organizations often send trained responders to help in extreme situations, such as Hurricane Sandy or floods in the Midwest. Three essentials for collaborative responders are multiple copies of professional licenses and credentials, valid photo identification, and disaster assignment sheets, according to instructions issued to Medical Reserve Corps personnel.

National deployment normally requires a commitment of 2-3 weeks. Since the organization provides transportation, volunteers may fly, drive a rental car, or travel with other volunteers, depending on how quickly they’re needed on location and the job duties they are certified to perform.

Mobilizing and organizing a volunteer force after a disaster requires a great deal of prior coordination, training and preparation. If your organization works with volunteers to respond after disasters, some of the details above will hopefully help guide you to be more efficient and impactful.

Heather Nelson is a freelance writer from New Orleans. In her spare time, Heather volunteers at animal shelters.

(Image by JaxStrong pursuant to the terms of his Creative Commons license.)

How to Donate, Volunteer and Be Prepared After the Boston Marathon Bombings

A short list of ways you and your volunteers can take action after the Boston Marathon BombingsSince Monday many, many people have asked us how they can help the victims of the bombings at the Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013. So we’ve put together a short list of ways you and your volunteers can respond to the awful events in Boston with support, action and goodwill:

Microsoft’s HelpBridge App

Microsoft's new Helpbridge mobile app will help you give and get help during and after a tragedy or crisis like the Boston Marathon BombingsThis new mobile app, recently released by Microsoft in partnership with Aidmatrix, GuideStar, Mobile Giving Foundation, Network for Good and VolunteerMatch, helps people get help and give help during and after disasters.

HelpBridge will keep you connected with loved ones and show you how to give time and money to support relief and response efforts. The app is available for iOS, Android and Microsoft users.

VolunteerMatch Disaster Map

Use the VolunteerMatch Disaster Map app online to find and post volunteer opportunities around disaster relief and preparedness in Boston or in your own community.As part of our mission to help connect good people and good causes, VolunteerMatch maintains a map of disaster-related volunteer opportunities, so it’s easier for you to help your community when disaster strikes or respond today to current relief opportunities.

Support Local Organizations

What are the organizations on the ground helping the victims in Boston? You can use VolunteerMatch to find nonprofits in the area to support. Or, search for disaster relief and response organizations in your own community to help them prepare for a future crisis.

Get Trained in Disaster Preparedness and Response

Join an American Red Cross Disaster Action Team to help your community prepare for disasters and crises like the Boston Marathon bombings.

The American Red Cross of Central South Carolina is recruiting volunteers for its Disaster Action Team.

The life-saving bravery of the first responders in the aftermath of the Boston attacks has been an inspiration for us all. You can join a first response team by getting trained as part of a disaster response program.

Your local Red Cross’ Disaster Action Teams are a great option, or you can contact your community’s police and fire departments to learn more.



Emotionally, we all have different ways of responding to the horror of events like the Boston bombings. Some of us turn to family and friends, some of us retreat inwards, others get angry, and others search for distractions from the pain.

However, there’s one urge we all have when a catastrophe strikes: We all want to help. Hopefully this list will help you and your volunteers to do that.

Choose one or more that resonate with you – no matter where you live or what your personal situation is, if you want to help there’s a way. After all, that’s what volunteering is all about.

(photo: smi23le/Flickr)

Here’s What You Can Do to Help with Hurricane Sandy

hurricane sandy volunteeringOn Thursday and Friday governors and mayors were warning local residents in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic to get ready for Hurricane Sandy. On Saturday, those calls to action became louder: “This is a very serious storm. People will get hurt.”

By Sunday their message had changed again: “You need to hurry. Soon it will be too late.”

Today, with portions of many communities under siege from a dangerous super-storm, concerned folks from across the nation want to go volunteer and help out. Unfortunately it’s too late for those who want to respond now.

With the crisis at its peak, in most cases disaster response organizations like the American Red Cross are deploying the volunteers that they’ve been training for just this moment. Despite all your best intentions, you’d be worse than useless on the ground in Atlantic City or New York. You’d be in the way, making it harder for trained responders to do their job.

So what can you do if you want to help? There are two things:

Want to help spread the word to friends and family? Click here to tweet out this article.

1. Donate to an organization like the American Red Cross that is working on the ground to save lives and provide food, clothes, and shelter to those who’ve been affected. Click here to support the American Red Cross.

2. Get training where you live so that if disaster strikes locally you can help. A good place to start is our Disaster Response & Preparedness Map, which tracks such opportunities in real time. Click here to volunteer to get disaster preparedness training. 

What Can Nonprofits Do?

Traffic to VolunteerMatch.org always spikes because of disasters. If your organization works to help people before, during or after disasters, there are things you can to do on our site to leverage this traffic for your mission:

After Irene: 5 Things Organizations Involved in Disaster Response Should Be Doing at VolunteerMatch

If you don’t work in disaster fields, you still have an obligation to get help your staff and constituents stay safe:

Is Your Organization Ready for Disaster Season?

Effective disaster relief begins with smart disaster preparedness. Use your money to help out now. Use your time to get the skills you need to help out in the future

What do you think? What are some other ways volunteers and nonprofit organizations can help with responses to Hurricane Sandy and other disasters?