Flood tide

By Todd Cohen

Americans dig deep when they want to.

Donors contributed at least $550 million in just two weeks after 9/11, and charities already have raised more than $324 million to assist victims of the South Asia tsunamis, the Chronicle of Philanthropy reports.

Sadly, while they spur big donations, big disasters are far from the only problems needing urgent attention from donors.

Daily life teems with tragedy, from poverty, hunger and poor health to illiteracy, violence and homelessness.

But unlike cataclysmic disasters, which generate heavy media coverage and heartbreaking images, the crushing tragedies of daily life are suffered by millions of separate individuals who live beneath the radar of the news media and of donors numb to individual suffering.

As they do after any big disaster, the media and philanthropic leaders in recent weeks have speculated that “fatigue” from the tsunami response could leave donors feeling tapped out, and hurt contributions to other causes.

That might be the case. But it also poses a challenge to charities to do a better job telling the story of the urgent social needs that require ongoing support from donors, and to push for changes in public policies underlying those problems.

Charity needs to speak up.

Todd Cohen is the Editor and Publisher of the Philanthropy Journal.

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