JIM LEHRER: Now, the new effort to boost aid donations from private Americans. President Bush announced that today, with former Presidents Clinton and Bush in charge.
We discuss that and the aid effort so far with Mary McClymont, president of InterAction, an umbrella organization that includes more than 160 American-based humanitarian and development groups. Catholic Relief Services is one of those groups.
And Mark Melia is the director of annual giving and support there. Here also is Stacy Palmer, the editor of the Chronicle of Philanthropy, a newspaper of the nonprofit world.
Ms. McClymont, how significant is it bringing in former Presidents Bush and Clinton to run this private effort?
MARY McCLYMONT: I think it's a very significant step. And we want to commend the president for his leadership on this. I think bringing that stature to this effort will make a great difference.
We've already seen virtually an unprecedented overwhelming response from the American public. But we know that that will have to continue in order to meet all the longer-term needs in addition to the relief effort at hand.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Melia, do you agree bringing in the former presidents is going to have an impact?
MARK MELIA: Yes, I agree. We're grateful to the president for this action. And we believe that it will be helpful because the more attention that we get, the more likely it is that people will continue to give. And it is important for the long-term efforts to be able to meet the needs of the people.
JIM LEHRER: What can they do that nobody else could do, Mr. Melia?
MARK MELIA: They can bring attention and they can coordinate efforts at a level that is available really only to ex-presidents. I'm sure that they can coordinate with the governments that are involved.
They can coordinate with all of the international humanitarian organizations that are bringing there. They can bring that sort of prestige that will help us in our efforts to ensure that we were able to meet the long-term needs of the people.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree, Ms. Palmer?
STACY PALMER: Absolutely. They're wonderful fund-raisers so I have a feeling they're going to bring in a lot of money.
JIM LEHRER: What would you say, Ms. Palmer, the reaction has been thus far, and not the reaction, but what has been the record thus far of Americans, individual Americans, private Americans either corporately or as individuals contributing to help the tsunami victims?
STACY PALMER: People are giving a lot of money. Already we've tallied at least $163 million.
JIM LEHRER: Say that again. How many?
STACY PALMER: $163 million has been donated so far. So that's a phenomenal response that's happened just in the past few days.
JIM LEHRER: Phenomenal compared to what? How do you judge what's phenomenal in this kind of thing?
STACY PALMER: For an overseas crisis like this a natural disaster that is a very big response. However, compared to Sept. 11 when we saw donations rushing in, it is smaller than that, when $2.3 billion was raised just to give you a perspective.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Melia, what has been the response to your organization thus far from ordinary Americans?
MARK MELIA: Well, we've been overwhelmed by the generosity like many of our counterparts in the international humanitarian community.
The most similar or comparable emergency we can even think of is the Ethiopian famine in the mid '80s when Catholic Relief Services received $50 million. We don't know that we'll get to that amount. Catholic Relief Services has committed to $25 million. And to date we've raised $14.8 towards that commitment.
JIM LEHRER: Now, is this -- are you actually out soliciting money or is this money that's just come in over the transom, people who just want to give it to you?
MARK MELIA: For the most part this has been unsolicited because I mean of course we have our Web site and we put out our name and contact information via media.
But... and we've done some telephone solicitation, but really for the most part it's been unsolicited. And we're just getting our mailing -- the traditional thing that generates the most response from individuals is direct mail. That's just getting into the mail right now.
JIM LEHRER: How about your organizations, Ms. McClymont, how -- what kind of response have they been getting?
MARY McCLYMONT: Similarly. Many of our groups tell us that this is unprecedented, that they're getting ten times as much as they usually get in response to a humanitarian crisis.
A lot of people have also compared it to Hurricane Mitch that happened in Central America, which was another natural disaster which involved four countries. This is 12 countries. But I think we're seeing that all our groups are reporting in at really an unprecedented level of giving at this stage.
JIM LEHRER: Ms. Palmer, Mr. Melia mentioned the Internet. Is the Internet making a difference this time in terms of how people can give money easily and safely?
STACY PALMER: Very much so. That's why you saw so much money coming in so fast. People went to their computers and they quickly made gifts. Some of them had in mind a group they wanted to go to. But really pretty much anywhere you went online you saw give money now.
If you went to weather.com, it said here's how you can give. You went to amazon.com before you bought a book there was something that said here's how we can give. And so that's why you saw such a tremendous response. And I think it's a sign that people are finally really comfortable giving online.
JIM LEHRER: They're comfortable. Is it also safe to do it that way?
STACY PALMER: As long as you're giving to a legitimate group. It's just like with online shopping or anything else. You have to be careful and be a smart donor. But it's a very secure way. Many charities have made sure that their sites are operating well.
JIM LEHRER: Well, the president said today give to reliable organizations. What is a reliable organization in the context of the tsunami crisis?
STACY PALMER: That's a really important point because what often happens after crisis like this unfortunately is that some people try to take advantage of the situation and try to raise money falsely. So you really have to be careful as a donor to be sure that there's not a scam.
But what reliability means more than just whether you're a fraudulent group or not. But do you have a track record? Have you ever done this kind of work before? Do you know how to provide relief in a way that really helps people and doesn't just get in the way?
JIM LEHRER: But how does - Ms. McClymont, how does an ordinary person who goes to the Internet and says, okay, I want to give some money and how do I know who to give it to and whether or not this is a real effort and will help the people I want to help and the way I want to help them?
MARY McCLYMONT: Absolutely. The members of Interaction are --
JIM LEHRER: That's your group.
MARY McCLYMONT: That is. They're -- tried and true relief and development groups that have been operating around the world and in crises all over the world for decades. And we have them listed on our Web site, those that want to contribute and help in this crisis.
And so an individual can simply go there and see these groups. These are groups that have agreed to conform to standards or principles of good performance, good fundraising, good practices in doing relief. So they're tried and true. I think another thing to remember is that cash is really the best thing to give.
JIM LEHRER: I want going to ask you about that in a minute. Let's say that, for instance, Jeff Kaye's piece that we saw of the Sri Lankans in Los Angeles.
If somebody wanted to send money just to Sri Lanka, just to a particular part of Sri Lanka, is that possible to do on the Internet? Or do you have to give it to some larger organization and let them decide how to do it?
MARY McCLYMONT: Well, I know that if they would come to our Web site and see the member organizations that are working there they would understand what groups are doing.
Some groups help children. Some groups just work in Sri Lanka. They would at least get some guide to who is doing what where. And I think that would be a good step to take.
JIM LEHRER: Mark Melia, what would you add to that? Somebody who wants to target their contribution?
MARK MELIA: Yes. Most organizations and CRS is one of the proud members of Interaction can accommodate that depending on their mission and focus as Ms. McClymont mentioned. But I would say that, you know, as far as putting to a specific country, yeah, we could do that now.
We're still in the assessment phase though about going to particular parts of a country. We'll know better once we've set up what projects we're going to be doing other than the... we're obviously doing the initial and immediate relief with food and water to the people who need it in order to have... to sustain their life.
JIM LEHRER: But you would agree with her that if somebody was interested... for instance, so many of the victims have been children and you wanted your money spent just to help children, you could do that?
MARK MELIA: Well, there are organizations, of course, that do that. But it depends on the organization. Catholic Relief Services for instance really focuses on the family and the community as its focus for how we're going to be working with programming that we're going.
We want to make sure that we take a holistic approach and focus on the intermediate relief, the interim resettlement process, and then long-term recovery so they can we can get boats, get fishing nets, some of the things that were mentioned in the earlier report that you had on.
JIM LEHRER: Now, Ms. Palmer, to follow up on Ms. McClymont's point about sending money rather than goods. Now, the Sri Lankans in Los Angeles, they gathered their clothes, et cetera, and are putting them on ships.
They're going to be there in 30 days. But I went through a lot of things today from relief organizations said forget it. Do not send food. Do not send clothes. Just send money. Do you agree with that?
STACY PALMER: Absolutely.
JIM LEHRER: Why?
STACY PALMER: Cash is much easier for the groups to work with. Then they can buy the supplies where they need it and spend the money as efficiently as possible rather than taking some of these goods that have been provided to them that maybe aren't necessarily the things that people need the most.
People don't always... they give out of their hearts but the things that people sort of package up and try to send away it's a wonderful instinct but unfortunately it's not a very smart donating strategy.
JIM LEHRER: Is it almost a negative in a way?
STACY PALMER: It is. It costs the charities money to have to deal with it. So it's not really a very wise thing to do.
JIM LEHRER: You agree.
MARY McCLYMONT: Agree. It is the transportation costs that go up if you have to deliver these goods. The humanitarians on the ground know exactly what the need is. So that they with the cash can go out and buy local products, local commodities, and we want to help the economies of these countries.
So if they can go buy goods locally, that's even better for the countries. And it's also more culturally appropriate, you know, if you're able to buy the goods right in the country.
JIM LEHRER: Rather than to send in a boat load of clothes from the United States, it's better to buy them there in that country?
MARY McCLYMONT: Absolutely. It helps the local economy. You get goods that are appropriate to the people in that country.
JIM LEHRER: Does that apply to your agency as well, Mr. Melia?
MARK MELIA: Yes, very much. We encourage people to give cash rather than in-kind donations for exactly the reasons that they were just speaking about. It's difficult to deal with the overwhelming amount.
It's very generous on the part of people but we can't always assure that they are exactly what's needed locally. And it does help with the local economy and it helps us not to have to spend the money on the shipping.
JIM LEHRER: As a matter of fact do you not accept them right now for the tsunami victims?
MARK MELIA: We will make an exception if there's something truly exceptional like, for instance, if a pharmaceutical company wanted to give us medicines that we were going to be purchasing and would be prohibitively expensive in that area. But for the most part, yes, we don't encourage in-kind donations.
JIM LEHRER: Are your organizations not taking in-kind or goods right now?
MARY McCLYMONT: I'll tell you what we do, do, is urge the public to go to a particular Web site and they can find that through our Web site in order to be able to give material goods.
JIM LEHRER: What is your Web site?
MARY McCLYMONT: It is www.InterAction.org.
JIM LEHRER: InterAction.org -
MARY McCLYMONT: That's right.
JIM LEHRER: That's the thing people should remember, right?
MARY McCLYMONT: I think they should.
JIM LEHRER: Okay, InterAction.org. Okay. Much of the emphasis has been on individuals. Your philanthropy sphere includes corporations and foundations as well as individuals. How are they responding to this?
STACY PALMER: They're definitely stepping up. And a lot of companies have pledged to give a million dollars, three million dollars. Some are giving things like drugs, pharmaceutical companies are trying to think about what kinds of things that they can provide.
So there's a lot going on. Many companies have agreed to match the donations that their employees are making as well because they're hearing from their employees who really want to do something and want to be able to give.
JIM LEHRER: That's a big thing, is it not?
STACY PALMER: That's very much a big thing.
JIM LEHRER: That's double the bang for the buck. Are you optimistic about what's happening in the United States about all of this? Are the average Americans responding the way you would want them to in your dream world?
STACY PALMER: It's wonderful that they're so generous but now the charities are going to have to live up to the promises because people made these gifts.
These were very emotional donations that a lot of people made when they saw all of the suffering. What we'll be watching is how is that aid really delivered? Is it done efficiently and well?
JIM LEHRER: And your 160 organizations now have to do that, right?
MARY McCLYMONT: We'll do our best. There are 55. And they do hold themselves accountable. And we hold them accountable through these principles and standards that we have.
I also think, Jim it's a great opportunity to remind the American public of the other critical humanitarian crises that are out there that are often forgotten when the news media goes away.
And so that we hope the two presidents in their effort will also use this opportunity to educate Americans about all the other needs in this world that maybe are sometimes forgotten unlike this crisis.
JIM LEHRER: Post-tsunami.
MARY McCLYMONT: Post-tsunami.
JIM LEHRER: Okay. Thank you all three very much.