If you lost everything, would you want a stranger to guess what you needed most? Or would you rather choose for yourself?

When disasters strike, individuals have their own personal emergencies. Whether it’s losing their home, being unable to get to work and pay the bills, or needing to purchase medicine, each person has their own unique challenges. These needs are difficult to predict. Yet donors still send canned goods and used clothes, making the decision of what the recipient needs most.

Wouldn’t you rather choose for yourself?

Cash enables that choice.

Imagine instead of getting a pile of used clothes you were given $1,500 no strings attached. What would you spend it on? Fixing your car, buying a generator, or replacing your fridge? Cash recognizes that everyone has unique emergencies and it is unrealistic to expect aid organizations to predict the wide array of complex needs that arise. Instead, cash allows recipients to prioritize and solve their own challenges.

Unsurprisingly, a majority of recipients prefer cash to traditional disaster relief.

And it turns out it’s pretty impactful.

Cash transfers are among the most well-researched and proven approaches to reducing poverty and changing lives. With over 165 studies, cash has been shown to have a wide range of positive impacts. In our disaster relief pilot in Puerto Rico, we saw the strongest evidence of impact on debt avoidance, stress reduction, and improvement in living conditions.

Even the former secretary-general of the UN recommends it.

Where markets and operational contexts permit, cash-based programming should be the preferred and default method of support.

Ban Ki-Moon
8th Secretary-General of the UN

Benefits of Cash

  • Choice
  • Impact
  • Transparency
  • Efficiency

Recipients define their own needs

Cash is adaptable to recipients’ varying, and sometimes changing, needs. Historically, spending decisions have been made by donors and aid agencies. But these solutions can fall short: if our team had given recipients the most commonly observed purchase bundle observed during our Hurricane Maria pilot program, we would have matched the spending preferences of only 6% of recipients (See more below). Instead, they could simply send cash.

165+ studies show cash’s impact.

Cash is one of the best-researched development interventions. To date there are over 165 published papers on cash transfers. This research shows a wide range of positive impacts, including on earnings, assets, nutrition, and more. Cash has also been shown to have a strong, positive multiplier effect on host economies (cite). Most importantly, research consistently shows recipients’ preference for cash. In one study of urban refugees, 86% of recipients preferred cash to in-kind aid (cite).

Cash has a clear delivery model.

Digital cash transfers are traceable and transparent. Across GiveDirectly programs, we track detailed breakdowns of delivery costs. We ensure our estimates of delivery costs are fair and inclusive – providing donors with a more accurate picture of the true value their donation delivers.

We strive to deliver 90¢ of each dollar to recipients.

We aim to maximize the share of each donated dollar that goes to families. Unlike physical donations, cash doesn’t require complex supply chains, intermediaries, or bureaucratic administration. We keep efficiency high through our efficient operating model and anti-fraud strategies. During our disaster relief pilot programs, over 90¢ of each dollar was delivered to recipients.

What sets our work apart:

Efficiency

We focus on being highly efficient while transparent. We focus on ensuring our delivery costs are inclusive and represent the true cost of delivering our programs.

Customer Service

We work to make our process as seamless as possible for our recipients. We offer a hotline to our call center. We also proactively follow-up with each recipient.

Low Fraud

We are realistic about the opportunities for fraud in a cash delivery chain. We use technology and fraud checks to monitor for bribe payments, staff fraud, and ineligible households.

Additional Reading:

So why not choose the gift of choice?


Frequently Asked Questions

Disaster Donation

+Is my donation tax-deductible?

Yes, donations are tax-deductible in the United States. GiveDirectly is a registered 501(c)(3), and our U.S. federal EIN is 27-1661997.

+I’m an existing GiveDirectly donor – will any of my donations go to US disasters?

No. Only donations specifically marked for disaster relief at point of donation will be delivered to recipients affected by a qualifying disaster. Donations marked for our poverty alleviation programs (or those marked “no preference”) will not be used in disaster relief efforts.

+How much of my donation does a recipient receive?

In our previous disaster relief pilots, over 90 cents of every dollar donated was delivered to recipients. The remainder was spent on key aspects of our operations: identifying the recipients most in need, preventing fraud, and ensuring a high bar of customer service. In future projects we will strive to deliver 90 cents of each dollar.

+How do you decide who receives money?

To identify those who are most impacted by a disaster, we look at two variables: poverty and damage. First, we use aerial imagery and existing poverty data sets to identify highly impacted areas. Next, our field team confirms the eligibility of recipients through on-site damage assessment and verification of enrollment criteria. We use the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) as a proxy for confirming the poverty level.

Disaster response at GiveDirectly

+How do I know recipients will spend cash appropriately?

The research is clear: poor households are some of the most effective spenders around. DFID’s High Level Panel on Humanitarian Cash Transfers concluded that “Cash transfers are one of the more thoroughly researched forms of development intervention”1. In addition, common concerns that people will spend money on vices have been consistently disproven.

In a post-disaster context, needs can vary greatly. Cash empowers recipients to spend on what they need most. A good question to ask: if your home was hit by a disaster and someone gave you $1,500 how would you spend the money? Having said that - we don’t know that every recipient will spend the way the donor thinks best. By giving cash, donors entrust recipients to best define their own needs2.

+What’s the evidence base on cash?

Over 165 studies on cash have shown impact across a range of outcomes. Learn more on our research page.

+How much of disaster relief funding is distributed as cash today?

There is room to grow the use of cash in disaster relief. In 2016, the Global Public Policy Institute estimated that if cash was used wherever the evidence suggests it should be, it would account for 40% of humanitarian aid, four-times its current share3.

+How do you prevent fraud?

We use a mix of prevention, detection, and auditing techniques to manage fraud. These include, for example, defined staff roles, controls on the number of cards that can be ordered per batch, spot checks of data captured in the field, remote GPS coordinate checks, and independent follow-up calls with recipients, among others. We use government-issued IDs, utility bills, and other documents to confirm the recipients' place of residence.

+Can I choose to whom to give?

No; you cannot choose an individual recipient. Practically speaking, if we did the latter we would risk being regulated as a money transfer service and losing our charitable status. Philosophically, we aim to target the poorest possible recipients in high impact areas of Hurricane Karol, and not those with compelling profiles or narratives.

+Do you implement the program yourself or partner with other organizations?

We manage the full transfer process, end-to-end. We partner with other organizations to improve our technology and data; for example, we use NOAA satellite data and Google technology to assess damage and Visa prepaid cards to transfer payment. But our team directly manages each stage of the transfer process.

+Can I sign up to be a recipient?

Unfortunately, GiveDirectly is not able to respond to individual requests for cash transfers. In order to ensure fairness and equity in our processes, we only select recipients using our eligibility process detailed above.

+Will you be responding to future disasters?

That's our goal. We're currently building both operational and fundraising capabilities around a range of humanitarian scenarios, including natural disasters, conflict, and refugee responses. Our decision on whether to deploy for a given disaster depends on the severity of the disaster, the number of low-income households impacted, and our ability to fundraise for relief efforts.

+How can I learn more about your work?

GiveDirectly is an NGO with 9+ years of experience delivering over $150M across six countries. In 2017, our team ran two disaster relief pilot programs in response to Hurricanes Harvey and Maria. To learn more about this work, see our published whitepaper here.

1. DFID "Doing cash differently: How cash transfers can transform humanitarian aid" September 2015

2. Evans, David K.; Popova, Anna "What Really Works to Improve Learning in Developing Countries?" 2016

3. Julia Steets, Andrea Binder, Andras Derzsi-horvath, Susanna Krüger, Lotte Ruppert "Drivers and Inhibitors of Change in the Humanitarian System" April 2016