Just days after pledging $350 million in relief and recovery aid to the dozen nations affected by the Indian Ocean tsunami, President Bush has announced an unprecedented private fundraising drive for victims of the disaster to be led by two former presidents, the Washington Post reports.
In tapping his father, George H.W. Bush, and his immediate predecessor, Bill Clinton, the president hopes to demonstrate his administration's commitment to alleviating the widespread suffering caused by the earthquake-triggered tsunamis that struck the region on December 26. "From our own experiences we know that nothing can take away the grief of those affected by tragedy," said Bush in making the announcement. "We also know that Americans have a history of rising to meet great humanitarian challenges and of providing hope to suffering peoples. As men and women across the devastated region begin to rebuild, we offer our sustained compassion and our generosity and our assurance that America will be there to help."
According to the president, Clinton and Bush Sr. will campaign across the country, asking Americans to donate directly to "reliable" charities already providing help in the region. He referred Americans to a Web site, usafreedomcorps.gov, for further information on how to help.
The announcement by the White House lends further support to a private philanthropic response to the disaster that has unfolded with startling speed. According to the Los Angeles Times, many charities are reporting that contributions to the relief and recovery effort are outpacing the unprecedentedly rapid charitable response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. New York City-based UNICEF, for example, reported that, in the four days immediately following the disaster, its online fundraising site pulled in $300,000, $1.6 million, $3.5 million, and $5.3 million.
"It's broken all records," UNICEF spokeswoman Lisa Szarkowski told the Times on Friday. "We raised $4 million for the earthquake in Gujarat, India, in 2001, and we thought that was an outpouring. But we raised more than that online yesterday alone."
Not surprisingly, online fundraising has played an important role in the charitable response. Online retailer Amazon.com posted a link on its home page to the American Red Cross after the disaster hit and by Friday evening had received $10 million in donations from 130,000 people. Elsewhere, Seattle-based World Vision said that three-quarters of the $8 million it had raised as of the weekend came in through the Internet.
Tommy Loeb, deputy executive director for the American Jewish World Service in New York City, told the Times that as donors become more familiar and comfortable with the Internet, they are increasingly likely to give online, in part because it's so much easier. Rather than having to look for a checkbook, an envelope, and a stamp — not to mention the address of a charity — donors can simply go online and make their contributions with a few clicks of the mouse.
The big question in the weeks and months to come, added Chronicle of Philanthropy editor Stacy Palmer, is whether people will consider such a gift as "an additional gift or whether it's replacing one of the charitable gifts that they would otherwise have made."