After a disaster strikes, images of destroyed homes motivate many of us to donate. Often we give to charities handing out things like tarps and food, because that’s what we imagine people need. Here are 4 reasons you should instead…

1. Survivors use cash for urgent goods and services

Markets and businesses rebound quicker than you’d expect after disasters. Food, water, and medicines are likely available, but survivors in poverty will struggle to afford them with employment interrupted and many homes destroyed. 

Cash donations go directly to the most vulnerable survivors to spend on what they need most. Decades of evidence shows they’ll use it to feed their families, repair their homes, and avoid selling off property or taking on debt.

There’s no way to deliver truckloads of rent or pallets of school fees. With cash, survivors can avoid eviction, keep their kids in class, visit the doctor, and many other things only money can buy.

2. Survivors need cash, going so far as to sell donations to get it 

After a disaster, survivors regularly rank ‘cash’ as their biggest unmet need, over shelter or food. Researchers find refugees will sell large portions of their food rations because what they actually need is cash. Even vouchers are resold, sometimes for just half their value. Giving unconditional cash to survivors respects their preferences and dignity. 

“If you’ve never been on the receiving end of aid, you are lucky.  But, if one day, you are in that position – ask yourself – do you want other people making choices about what you eat and how you spend your money?”

Innocent Tshilombo, refugee 

3. Survivors spend cash locally, helping businesses recover

Saturating a disaster zone with free goods can undercut local merchants, slowing recovery for business owners who have stock but struggle with low demand post-disaster. Cash given directly is spent locally, so the money will have even more spillover benefit – in some contexts, $2 of indirect benefit for every $1 given.  

4. Sending cash is efficient, digital, and direct

After a disaster, roads may be damaged, and those that are functioning are prioritized for rescue crews and medical workers. Sending cash won’t further clog supply lines or rack up expensive shipping and logistics costs; it goes digitally from your credit card to the accounts of people in need. 

Cash is also targeted, reaching people even if they’ve fled their homes. In-kind goods like food or tarps are often dumped in central areas without consideration for if they’re needed or how they’ll reach the most vulnerable people.

GiveDirectly has delivered cash to survivors of Cyclone Freddy in Mozambique and Malawi (2023), the Turkey-Syria earthquakes (2023), Hurricanes Ian and Fiona (2022), Hurricane Dorian (2019), & Hurricanes Maria and Harvey (2017). We’re currently responding to the earthquakes in Morocco

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