Mother nature strikes with a vengeance sometimes, anywhere and at anytime. From Haiti in 2010, to Japan and the southern US in 2011, her path of destruction often defies description. Catastrophic loss is usually what’s left.

Generally, the world and the nation come together to help when a natural disaster strikes. Whether the disaster is overseas or a state or two away, emergency aid and relief begin to flow almost immediately – cash donations, food, water, clothing, medical supplies. The US government even sends military assistance if needed, like in Haiti and Japan.

News of the tragedy and relief efforts often may bring up the question: How does my company or church group go about sending non-monetary donations to a disaster stricken area?

It’s not easy, but it can be done.


The White House, US State Department and most charities recommend cash donations. Why? Because it gives aid workers and government agencies the ability to buy what’s needed immediately in the disaster area. There are logistical reasons, too.

Take Haiti, for example. The country’s major sea port and infrastructure were severely damaged, it has only one major airport, which is very small, and relief workers had immediate problems distributing the food, water and necessities that were sent. It’s very difficult for these workers and agencies to store and ultimately distribute any more donated goods and materials.

Goods and Services

That’s not to say you can’t make non-monetary donations. Doing so presents possible legal and logistical problems, though.

The Center for International Disaster Information (CIDI) is operated with money from the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (a part of the USAID – US Agency for International Development). CIDI is used by the public, the US government, foreign embassies and international corporations to help in times of crisis.

The CIDI recommends cash donations, too, but it does give guidelines to follow for non-cash donations:

  • The quality of the goods or services has to meet the legal standards of the affected country and perhaps international law, as well. For example, sending contaminated food to a disaster area may expose you to a lawsuit if someone gets ill after eating the food
  • Likewise, donated building materials or construction services must comply with any building codes in that country
  • You may not be qualified to help. For instance, while you may be a doctor or medical professional in the US, your credentials may not be recognized in the foreign country. So, you may be practicing medicine illegally in that country
  • Anyone interested in donating drugs or medicine should follow the guidelines established by the Network for Medicine and Development, also known as “ReMeD”

Next, Other Considerations

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