What Your Harvey Relief Efforts May Be Missing: Intentionality

business, charity, disaster, harvey, relief, donation

As many of you know, I’m based in Houston, Texas. And  stayed during Hurricane Harvey.

Outside of the mounting depression that builds after being stuck inside for 4 days/when it rains 4 days straight without break/when you’re worried about being blown away, the trauma of watching so many suffer so many losses took a bigger toll than expected. Much bigger. Watching Mufasa die on loop bigger.

Paradoxically, the outpouring of love has equally been overwhelming. My Facebook timeline is flooded with volunteer and donation offers. Not requests, but hundreds of people offering help. Friends traveling from around the state to contribute. Viral pictures with lines of 2 hour waits….to volunteer. And everywhere you turn, some business or charity is taking donations.

Which is my concern.  

Most of us don’t do coordination well. Particularly, with a disaster of Harvey’s magnitude.

Understandably, the pictures of devastation can’t help but ignite a desire to do something, and quickly. Perhaps too quickly.

Recovery will require intentionality.

Haste leads to waste. I’ve seen it time and again. Even well-intentioned, it usually causes more harm than good. Not only to the beneficiaries, but to the organization’s reputation as well.  Don’t believe me, take a gander at all of the “don’t donate to Red Cross” articles floating around.

Businesses taking and making donations have to be more transparent. Who will donations go to? When will the donation be made? How much? For what purpose? And how will we know it got there?

Collections around town have to have a plan. Utilizing the innumerable disaster relief resources (volunteers, consultants, business community, etc.) we have here in Houston. Ask, is there intentionality in what you’re doing?

Do you know…

  • What the need is? And how do you need it? Are there specifics? I presume shirts need to be (relatively) intact and smaller items (like socks) need to be labeled. But are you making that clear in your appeals? Especially important for more sensitive items like baby formula, hygiene products, etc.
  • Who is doing what? In looking through all the appeals I’m curious who is taking the time to assess who is doing what? Are shelters reaching out to other shelters? What duplication is there out there, and how can this be consolidated?
  • Who is information gathering? As the list of shelters citywide develops, are they reaching out to each other to understand capacity, resource needs, concerns? And where is this information being gathered and publicized?
  • Is there relationship building? Are representatives from the different spaces meeting? Maybe, I haven’t been able to tell. It would be great if there was a citywide convening with representatives from all the different communities weekly. Or some ways of having faces meet faces.
  • What’s next? What does transition look like for those currently running a collection? The immediate need is great, but what about the moderate and long term needs? I’ve been looking to see if organizations who jumped into action now are transitioning to cover the needs that will continue to exist weeks and months from now.
  • How can you pool? Nonprofits and businesses are donating 10% or 15% of sales to a relief fund (which typically isn’t named) but what if they were to pool instead? Spend X amount at these stores and we’ll donate this amount. Or Y amount in this community and businesses will all donate Z. How can we be concerted and collective in our giving?
  • Who can facilitate? Lists are being put together which is great. Slowly maps are circulating. But so many organizations are jumping to be in the action, that not enough time is being spent on facilitating. Updating lists, numbers and maps. Who has what, when and where?
  • What’s the goal? Most importantly, what’s the goal. What does relief mention to you, and are you being deliberate in carrying that out? Simply giving (to moi) isn’t good enough. Giving for what purpose? To whom? For how long?


Just my thoughts in watching some of this unfold. COMPLETELY understanding that much of the response is because the damage was unprecedented. BUT. There’s still a level of accountability we all have to hold people to.  And as we get a little distance between now and the storm, taking a survey to really figure things out will be key in ensuring this happens.

What are your thoughts? Would love to hear from anyone with experience in disaster relief. And putting together some thoughts for those volunteering and donating.