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Don't Give in to Slacktivism, Donate to Nepal Relief Efforts Now

Research shows people are much less likely to give to disaster relief efforts long after a galvanizing "start" date.
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Aftermath from the earthquake in Nepal. (Photo: Krish Dulal/Wikimedia Commons)

Aftermath from the earthquake in Nepal. (Photo: Krish Dulal/Wikimedia Commons)

As the news continues to emerge about the aftermath from the earthquakes that struck Nepal, India, and Bangladesh, the best thing most folks in the United States can do is to donate money to organizations working in the area. (Not sure where to give? Public Radio International has a list of vetted charities working in the region now.)

Meanwhile, one pitfall to watch out for is the easy satisfaction of sharing information about the quakes without donating. Over the past decade, sociologists have documented the rise of online "slacktivism," the practice of posting on social media about disasters or charity work without taking further—or any—helpful action. Before the advent of social media, researchers noticed instances of email slacktivism. Last year, an analysis of a Facebook group dedicated to "saving Darfur"—a region of Sudan that has experienced intense violence—found that almost none of its 1.2 million members donated to organizations working in Darfur. The group raised just $90,776 over two and a half years.

"Ninety percent of all dollars given to disasters is given within ninety days of a disaster."

Luckily—for this case—experience shows that ordinary folks are more likely to donate to victims of sudden, one-time disasters, like earthquakes or storms. More slowly developing crises, such as the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, seem to stir less action. People are more likely to give after some immediate, devastating "start" to an emergency, as Planet Money reported in October 2014. "Ninety percent of all dollars given to disasters is given within ninety days of a disaster," Robert Ottenhoff, president and CEO of the Center for Disaster Philanthropy, told Planet Money. Perhaps that explains, in part, the ineffectiveness of the Facebook group dedicated to the Darfur crisis, which has been unfolding over the last decade.

What does that mean for Nepal today? Those who wish to make a difference should give now, while Nepal is still in the news, and encourage their peers to do the same. If organizations are able to raise enough money in the next few weeks, it could help alleviate some of the burdens Nepal will undoubtedly face during the country's re-building period (when donations are less likely to come in). But if you remember the region's hardships at that later time too? You'll certainly be extraordinary, and much appreciated.