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A 'Tsunami' in Private Giving

Governments should learn from aid groups

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Stand up, America, and take a deep bow for yourself. You have crossed a remarkable threshold in compassion.

Your private donations to the tsunami survivors - already more than $400 million - have exceeded your own government's financial aid ($350 million). In fact, at least one-third of American households say they have donated money to an aid group in tsunami-hit nations.

This outpouring of charity from individuals, as well as from religious groups and corporations, wasn't just because of the scale of nature's wrath on Dec. 26 in the Indian Ocean.

Yes, the images of people and towns being washed away were heartbreaking.

Yes, the number of those killed within hours remains unimaginable (perhaps now 220,000); also, millions are still left destitute or without families.

No, this wasn't a disaster like war, famine, or an epidemic, which are often slow in their impact and, in most cases, can be prevented - thus often reducing the incentive for giving.

Rather, this "tsunami" of charity was also possible because of several significant trends that foster hope about greater levels of compassion.

Reliable Internet giving

For one, the Internet and many private humanitarian groups have made it not only easier for people to give money efficiently and quickly, but those groups have also improved the level of trust about how each person's donation is spent.

Many groups give donors detailed feedback, including pictures, on how their contributions are being used. One Web-based group, GlobalGiving, allows donors to e-mail local implementors in the affected nations. Many church congregations in the US have hooked up by phone or video link with sister churches in tsunami-hit areas to receive reports on the effects of their donations on people's lives.

The US branch of Doctors Without Borders announced it won't take any more donations for its operations in southern Asia. It had all it could handle. Direct Relief International explained to donors that their tsunami aid money would be held in a separate bank account.

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