It’s almost embarrassing to admit that I didn’t get around to donating to any Katrina relief funds until today. I certainly can’t claim that the delay was due to a lack of information. I’ve been inundated with suggestions for deserving organizations, and warnings about less worthy ones. I guess I could use the excuse that there were so many options it was difficult to pick one. And ultimately, I couldn’t pick just one.

The biggest choice was whether to assist humans or animals. I finally decided that was a no-brainer; the answer was “Both”. I couldn’t ignore the heart-wrenching stories and pictures of abandoned pets, and the uplifting reports of successful rescues.

Then I couldn’t even narrow it down to one organization in each category. I finally opted for two human-relief organizations, and two animal-relief groups. In all cases, I decided not to earmark my contributions for Katrina relief, but let the organizations use them where needed most.

Disasters like Katrina, and the Indonesian tsunami, generate a lot of publicity and a lot of donations. But many of the organizations provding relief in those disasters also provide aid in other situations that don’t get as much attention, but are just as worthy. Somebody who has lost his house needs assistance, regardless of whether he lost it in a disaster affecting millions, or a smaller storm that didn’t make the news outside his hometown. I’m not going to make the decision that my contributions should go to one instead of the other, even if it was the attention-grabbing one that inspired me to contribute.

As an example of the problems caused by earmarking contributions, the Red Cross has millions of dollars sitting idle in a tsnuami relief fund, and has announced that they don’t need any more tsunami donations, while they’re begging for support for Katrina. This is not their fault; they’re legally forbidden to use funds contributed to a specific disaster fund for a different disaster. But I don’t want to continue that problem by restricting my donation to Katrina relief when they might be faced with another disaster at any time.

My attitude is that, regardless of what triggered my contribution, I want it to go where it’s most needed. If I can’t trust an organization to use my funds wisely without earmarking them, then they’re not going to get any money from me. That’s why I am not donating to Humane Society of the United States, or United Way, in spite of the fact that they apparently are doing good work in Katrina relief. There are plenty of other organizations that I can trust without donating to a questionable one.

So it finally boiled down to ASPCA, Red Cross, American Friends Service Committee, and
American Veterinary Medical Foundation.

Ironically, shortly after donating online, I walked across campus and spotted an attractive young woman with a bucket soliciting donations. I was torn. On one hand, I gave at the office. On the other hand, another $10 or $20 wouldn’t break me. On the other hand, I had no idea for whom she was collecting, or whether she was legitimate. The news is full of stories about scam artists getting rich from Katrina. On the other hand, she was a hottie, and maybe it was worth spending a few minutes finding out what her story was. On the other hand, she probably wasn’t interested in getting hit on by dirty old men. I decided to save my money; I’m sure I’ll get a lot more chances to donate.

And today’s spree of filling out web forms for donations finally pushed me to rant about a small item that has long been irking me. Why does every organization that wants my address force me to enter city, state, and zip code? Why don’t they just ask for the zip code and look up the city and state? I suppose making me enter it all provides a sanity check against typos in the zip code; it would be easy to miss one digit and end up in another state. But displaying the city/state that they thought I was in based on the zip code I entered, and allowing me to verify it, should avoid that problem.

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