Here’s a statistic that will make your eyes pop out: Sixty percent of items donated during disasters wind up in landfills. Sixty. 6-0. Items flood in during the first days or weeks after a tornado, or flood, or earthquake, but may not be appropriate or aren’t needed until months later, when the news media have moved on but the victims remain. The glut of unusable or inappropriate donations is often called “a second-tier disaster” which takes up rescue workers’ time as they sort and discard.
An organization in Alexandria called Good360, launched in 1983 as “Gifts in Kind,” has become a worldwide leader in helping organize disaster relief as well as connecting corporations with charities in non-disaster times. Good360 has distributed more than $7 billion in product donations since its founding and is consistently ranked among the top 10 most efficient charities by Forbes magazine, with its operating costs less than 1.8 percent of the value of donations. Its current board chair, Carly Fiorina, who knows a little something about corporations and technology, called Good360 “the biggest nonprofit no one’s ever heard of.”
Now, Good360′s attempts to broaden its ability to work in emergencies has gotten a huge boost: In a national competition sponsored by Verizon, Good360′s “DisasterRecovery360″ online portal won second place and an $850,000 grant which will help Good360 develop the app, and enable disaster responders to pick or request specific items needed immediately, rather than deal with truckloads of unwanted clothes or unneeded food.
Good360′s CEO, Cindy Hallberlin, said the concept that drives her nonprofit began with the discovery, 30 years ago, that a corporation was throwing out $20 million worth of copying equipment which could have been used elsewhere. So Gifts in Kind, now Good360, began reaching out to corporations for large-scale product donations. And not just for altruistic reasons: IRS law 170 (e)(3) allows a tax deduction for corporations up to twice the cost of the items when donated to the ill or needy.
“We’re creating a new space in philanthropy,” Hallberlin said. “We’re moving from altruism to mutualism. The corporations, the nonprofits, the people in need and the environment all benefit. Corporations can do well by doing good. And we’re only scratching the surface.”
Good360 has an online catalog of items it already has stored, in a warehouse in Omaha, or can provide through the stores of cooperating donor companies. Charities can peruse the catalog and request what they need, Hallberlin said. But the charities “have to be a legitimate 501 (c)(3),” Hallberlin said. “While they’re ‘shopping,’ we’re checking out if they’re credible.” About 40,000 charities are now in the Good360 network, Hallberlin said.
Once a charity makes a request, the average delivery time is 48 hours, she said. That’s in part because 4,200 stores, from companies such as Home Depot and Bed, Bath and Beyond, are participating in the network. And store employees often become involved in the project once they see how they are directly helping in their community, Hallberlin said.
With this network of charities, corporations and stores already in place, Good360 then leaps into action when there is a disaster such as the tornadoes in Joplin, Mo., or the Superstorm Sandy which hit New Jersey and New York last year. “There are so many components to disasters,” Hallberlin said. One of them is a breakdown in communications, and “getting the right things to the right people,” Hallberlin said. “Sixty percent of the donations are winding up in landfills, it’s abysmal and shameful. And it could have been valuable if directed at the right time to the right people.”
Having a warehouse and distribution center in Omaha allows for planned staging of recovery materials, and “that’s a big difference,” Hallberlin said. And Good360 “stays with disasters not just from the moment they hit. No one can argue it’s not a multi-year process,” with different needs at different times. Some places may need water, some may not. Some may need clothes, some may not. In Joplin, emergency responders reported that they were “overwhelmed by disorganized generosity…we have enough water to fill more than two swimming pools. We have too much water, we don’t know what to do with it… we need the space…people need to know the implications of what they’re doing,” according to a study of disaster response by engineers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
In addition to managing emergency response, Good360 tries to keep attention and donations coming years later, by allowing donors to “sign up for the disaster they want” and providing them with updates on the changing needs of those in Joplin or the Philippines.
To make this process even more accessible, Good360 came up with DisasterRecovery360, for a mobile application that will enable both charities and donors to work with Good360 quickly and specifically. Verizon held its first Verizon Powerful Answers competition to reward innovative projects that can use Verizon’s mobile and broadband networks, and announced the winners at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last week. Good360 finished second in the sustainability category.
For more information about Good360, their website is here.