Giving Thought: How to support in times of crisis

Tamara Tormohlen
Giving Thought
Tamara Tormohlen

Since late February, many of us have watched as the Ukraine has been assaulted by the Russian military led by Vladimir Putin. It is the natural human instinct to feel compelled to do something.

The human instinct to react to an event like a crisis, with an action, such as volunteering or philanthropic giving, is called “action bias” by behavioral scientists. This is the natural human tendency to lean toward action when confronted with a stimulus.

Action bias begs the question of, “What can I do?” and the quick answers do not always yield the most impactful results. Turning to social media returns no shortage of answers to that question. As resources are precious for both those in need and those being called to action, there is perhaps no better time to turn to experts.

The Center for Disaster Philanthropy and others recommend cash donations, versus goods, to organizations for most disasters and humanitarian crises. Monetary donations allow for organizations on-the-ground to ensure that funds are directed toward those areas with the greatest needs. Donations of goods can fail to reach their intended destination and run the risk of creating additional work for already overburdened organizations.

Three areas of need have been identified in the current Ukraine situation by The Center for Disaster Philanthropy. Individual and family support is needed for those staying in Ukraine, including those who are displaced within the country. Assistance is needed across Europe to the countries who are taking in unprecedented numbers of refugees and perhaps extending to other continents as the crises continues. Support for the global economic effects, particularly in relation to hunger as the food supply chain continues to be impacted.

Charity Navigator reported a 2,092% increase in dollars raised through their platform from Feb. 24 to March 16 when compared to the same period the previous year.

In times of crisis, it is important to recognize that recovery can be long term and ongoing, especially when situations are complex, like the situation in Ukraine. Experts on disasters point out that often in these types of situations there is an initial influx of giving that does not extend to the full length of time needed for recovery.

One way to support communities and individuals impacted by crises in long-term recovery is to direct donations toward foundation funds. Foundations often play an essential role in responding to disasters. In addition to funding, they can offer support in other ways by leveraging their relationships and expertise to help organizations and civic leaders respond to all stages of a disaster.

The Aspen community has a rich history of supporting those in need by coming together with our collective resources to support those in need whether they are our neighbors or living across the globe. As a rural community, we know firsthand how truly interconnected our lives are.

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, our community was moved to action, and the Aspen Community Foundation established the Community to Community Disaster Relief Fund to channel resources into the impacted areas. Of the $30.7 million the Baton Rouge Area Foundation received for Hurricane Katrina relief, Aspen Community Foundation’s Community to Community Fund contributed $153,455, third for overall community foundation donations.

Since its creation, the fund has been activated to support victims of international events such as the earthquake in Haiti in 2010 and for more local events including the Lake Christine Fire in 2018. In 2020, the community came together to raise over $10 million to provide relief for those impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Aspen Community Foundation’s Community to Community Disaster Relief Fund provides a tax-deductible vehicle for donors to support the immediate and long-term needs of disaster victims and their families as well as impacted agencies and communities. Monies from this fund are disbursed to provide immediate relief as well as to organizations and entities with the capability to address the short- and long-term needs of individuals, families and communities.

While the full impact of this current crisis remains unknown, we can find comfort in knowing that as a community we have the resources and connections to ensure our actions can have a tremendous impact on improving the lives of others.

Tamara Tormohlen is executive director of the Aspen Community Foundation.