Felix Salmon gives the case for not donating money to Japan:
In the specific case of Japan, there’s all the more reason not to donate money. Japan is a wealthy country which is responding to the disaster, among other things, by printing hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of new money. Money is not the bottleneck here: if money is needed, Japan can raise it. On top of that, it’s still extremely unclear how or where organizations like globalgiving intend on spending the money that they’re currently raising for Japan — so far we’re just told that the money “will help survivors and victims get necessary services,” which is basically code for “we have no idea what we’re going to do with the money, but we’ll probably think of something.”
Globalgiving, it’s worth pointing out, was created to support “projects in the developing world,” where lack of money is much more of a problem than it is in Japan. I’m not at all convinced that the globalgiving model can or should be applied directly to Japan, without much if any thought about whether it’s the best way to address the issues there.
That said, it’s entirely possible that organizations like the Red Cross or Save the Children will find themselves with important and useful roles to play in Japan. It’s also certain that they have important and useful roles to play elsewhere. So do give money to them — and give generously! And give money to other NGOs, too, like Doctors Without Borders (MSF), which don’t jump on natural disasters and use them as opportunistic marketing devices. Just make sure it’s unrestricted. The official MSF position is exactly right:
The ability of MSF teams to provide rapid and targeted medical care to those most in need in more than 60 countries around the world – whether in the media spotlight or not – depends on the generous general contributions of our donors worldwide. For this reason, MSF does not issue appeals for support for specific emergencies and this is why we do not include an area to specify a donation purpose on our on-line donation form. MSF would not have been able to act so swiftly in response to the emergency in Haiti, as an example, if not for the ongoing general support from our donors. So we always ask our supporters to consider making an unrestricted contribution.
Salmon is reiterating an earlier stance from a post titled “Don’t give money to Haiti” in listing the reasons for not giving to Japan. I don’t agree with his stance on Haiti (money was and is a legitimate problem there, and I’ll eat my shoes if all the money promised by the UN and various other multinational organizations and national governments ever shows up), but I think he might not be off the mark for Japan. It is a wealthy country, and money isn’t the problem. It will take time, but Japan is set up much better than Haiti, Indonesia, or China, for instance, to recover from this catastrophe.
Having some experience with the difference between restricted and unrestricted money in nonprofit budgets, Salmon is dead on that earmarked money is a great way to hamstring an organization. That’s why many organizations give you the option of funneling your donation to “where it is needed most.” I’d also argue it’s a little harsh to criticize Global Giving and other nonprofits for “opportunistic marketing.” The best marketing fundraising campaigns are timely and poignant. Distasteful though it may seem to some, issuing a special Japanese earthquake/tsunami appeal is no worse than showing videos of one eyed cats or (presumably) starving children.