Donations have been pouring in from around in the world in response to the devastating earthquake that hit Haiti last week. Major disasters like this really expose the paradox of charitable giving. The main reason people give money in situations like this is out of a belief that their money will help the people affected by the disaster. As it turns out, this isn't always the case. Not all organizations have the expertise, personnel, or capacity to handle every kind of disaster. Some organizations don't try all that hard to use the money they receive to help victims of the disaster and some are outright frauds. Even legitimate organizations that have established operations on location may not be able to use all of the funds that they receive for disaster relief.
Some people look at all of these issues and conclude that charitable giving is a waste of time, another example of naive do-gooders paying no attention to the laws of unintended consequences. I have something of a love-hate relationship with charitable giving, but I think that these attitudes are counter productive. I think that do-gooders have a bad reputation. Sure, they sometimes cause more problems than they solve, but at least their hearts are in the right place. We should save most of our scorn for the people who are actively trying to make things worse.
This article has some good tips on making better charitable donations in the event of a major disaster. To sum it up in a single sentence, the best charitable gifts are the ones that are the least exciting to give. Giving may be an act of charity, but the giver also receives satisfaction of helping someone in need. It's more satisfying to think that your gift is being used to help save someone's life at this very moment in Haiti, but it doesn't help anyone if the charity that you gave to already has more money than they can spend in Haiti and can't redirect your funds to another area of the world because you earmarked it for the Haitian earthquake. So go ahead and donate money, but make sure you're giving it to reputable groups who can really use it and don't worry so much about the disaster of the day; there are plenty of people around the world in need of help, many in places you're probably never heard of. A good charity will make sure that your money goes to a place where it can make a difference, as long as you give them the opportunity to do so.