In the age of new media, the effects of natural disasters are felt in homes and hearts around the world. Unlike previous generations, who needed to pick up a daily paper or tune into the evening news to keep up to date, today we are inundated with information.

From people in need of help leveraging social media to alert for rescue, to live raw footage showing real people in the midst of tragedy, new media has changed how the world reacts to a catastrophic event. In turn, social media has made a large impact on charitable giving. In 2016 the US hit an all time high of charitable donations with over $390B.

With our hearts melting for those affected, it is important to remember that not all good intentions are good ideas. Watching the seemingly endless stream of coverage may tug at your heartstrings and compel you to pack a box of clothing, children's toys, canned foods, and the like. Many fail to realize that, while well-intentioned, these actions can lead to even graver issues for those responders in disaster zones.

In 1992, Category 5 Hurricane Andrew left a deadly path of destruction throughout Florida. Humanitarians around the world were quick to ship clothing and used goods in an effort to help those in need. Unfortunately, due to the destruction that transpired, many of those gifts were left in piles along the roadside, unable to be delivered due to the broken interstate. As the roller coaster of weather patterns ensued, those clothing items quickly morphed into rotten smelly piles of refuse.

The empathetic hearts of those who participated in relief efforts transpired into yet another predicament for the locals and first responders. The notion that victims lost everything, so they must need anything, could not have been further from the truth.

The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) cautions that used clothing is "rarely a useful item" to collect and donate to disaster relief efforts.

"Generally after a disaster, people with loving intentions donate things that cannot be used in a disaster response, and in fact may actually be harmful," cautioned Juanita Rilling, director of the Center for International Disaster Information in Washington, D.C. "And they have no idea that they're doing it."

So what can we as businesses and individuals do to help? Disaster relief experts encourage people to donate cash to accredited nonprofit organizations. If you aren't privy to an abundance of cash, consider instead selling those used clothes or goods and donating the money to worthy organizations.

Charity Navigator is an organization that evaluates charities' financial statements to ensure that your donation ends up in the right hands. They benchmark and rate national support organizations such as American Red Cross (3/4 stars), Global Giving (4/4 stars), Americares (4/4 stars), and All Hands (4/4 stars).

Charity Navigator also evaluates select local charities like food banks and shelters in areas after a major disaster. It is important to vet organizations before just clicking "Submit" on a crowdfunding site. In the wake of tragedy heroes emerge - but, unfortunately, so do charlatans.

It's a wonderful thing for individuals from all around the world to want to lend a hands and help those in need. New media coverage of disasters and efficient online donation sites have made it easier than ever to help those less fortunate in times of need and despair. Let's make sure we're doing it in the right way and helping those heroes on the ground who know better than us how to help.

Published on: Sep 1, 2017