Written by: Juanita Rilling, Director, USAID CIDI
It’s no secret that gifts are a beloved part of the holiday season. From buying and wrapping them, to giving and getting them – the whole process is saturated with merriment.
Some of my favorite parts of the gifting tradition are buy-one-get-one sales (known as BOGO sales) featured by some stores during the holiday season. My home is filled with these freebies, from a colorful collection of sample-sized cosmetics to bags of flavored coffee to BOGO pairs of shoes; I love getting extra goodies from a single purchase.
And BOGO means more to me than just a great perk during holiday shopping. As Director of the USAID Center for International Disaster Information, I spend my year sharing with donors the best ways to support disaster relief, explaining why monetary donations provide the greatest value, flexibility and impact in recovery efforts – essentially serving as a BOGO donation.
What makes monetary donations such a great deal? In the hands of experienced, reputable relief organizations, monetary donations not only save thousands of lives following a humanitarian disaster like Hurricane Katrina or the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, but they bring additional benefits, too. Charitable organizations use cash donations to purchase needed supplies in proper quantities locally, saving thousands of dollars in transportation costs, supporting local merchants and contributing to economic recovery in affected areas. Local purchases also ensure that goods are fresh and familiar to survivors, culturally appropriate and, in the case of equipment, locally supportable so that they will be sustainable additions within the community long after the relief organizations are gone.
Around the holidays, most of us feel the giving spirit pretty strongly, which is a wonderful thing. In that spirit, it’s also good to remember that disasters can happen at any time, in any season – and when they do, being smart about donations ensures that people who are impacted receive the attention, supplies and support they need. Even tiny cash donations combine to achieve the BOGO magic, multiplying the value of your gift – no matter what you give.
In contrast to monetary donations, material donations only provide relief workers with one option rather than the power and flexibility of many options. Executive Director of the Center for High Impact Philanthropy at the University of Pennsylvania Katherina Rosqueta explains that food banks, for example, can purchase what they need for “pennies on the dollar” with cash donations. She estimates that they pay about 10 cents a pound for food that would cost $2 per pound retail. Feeding an entire family for $1 rather than providing a single can valued at $1 seems like a no-brainer, doesn’t it?
At the USAID Center for International Disaster Information, we’re focused on generating awareness about how monetary donations to trusted relief organizations can achieve every donor’s goal of helping as many disaster-affected people as possible. Just as I’ll always buy the BOGO gift over its single-purchase counterpart, I’ll always give the $5 over the $5-worth of stuff because I want my donation to do as much good as possible. If you ask me, helping more people is the best free gift this holiday season and year-round.