- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 8, 2005

Almost three in 10 Americans say they have donated to victims of the tsunami in Asia, according to an Associated Press poll taken as the private total begins to approach the amount given by the government.

Despite the outpouring, the amount still pales in comparison to the donations in the days following the September 11 attacks. But much more is expected. According to the poll, 29 percent say they have given for tsunami aid; an additional 37 percent say they plan to.

“It’s heartbreaking,” said Charla Mere, a 52-year-old mother of two from Manitou Springs, Colo., who said she had contributed $150. “People should give money if they have it. We’re all humans. We should all treat each other as humans. Those children who have no parents, have nothing — the devastation on their faces is just terrible.”

About 15 percent of Americans said they had donated less than $100, according to the poll conducted for the AP by Ipsos-Public Affairs. About 5 percent said they had given $100 or more. And about 9 percent said they could not specify how much they had given, raising some doubt about their answer.

“People might feel pressure to give the socially correct answer when being interviewed,” said Robert Shapiro, a public opinion specialist at Columbia University. “We know that a lot of people are giving money. People might feel it puts them in an awkward situation to say they haven’t.”

Indiana University’s Center on Philanthropy, which tracks donations, estimated $322 million in cash and goods had been contributed by U.S. corporations, foundations and individuals as of Friday. The Bush administration has pledged $350 million.

The total in private donations is about 40 percent of what had been given to victims of the September 11 attacks almost two weeks after the hijackings, said Gene Tempel, executive director of the Center of Philanthropy. The difference is understandable, Mr. Tempel said.

“On September 11, our country was attacked. It was almost un-American not to respond,” he said. “Three-fourths of the public eventually contributed something.”

Mr. Tempel said the level of donations is likely to increase as independent groups are formed to raise money. Two ex-presidents renowned for their fund-raising prowess — Bill Clinton and George Bush — have been recruited to spur giving.

The tsunami donations will be among the largest ever for an overseas disaster, Mr. Tempel said, but exact information on donation totals for past crises is sketchy. Continuing media coverage will be a key to the total raised, he said.

“We’ve seen tsunami waves from one angle or another endlessly, people clinging to trees. It touches us,” he said.

Sara Mehaffey, a 29-year-old attorney from Burleson, Texas, said she was thinking about making a donation but worried about charity scams. “I haven’t done enough research to know exactly what they’re going to do with the money.”

The FBI, several states and consumer watchdog agencies have issued warnings, noting that an outpouring of generosity has opened the door for con artists who want to prey upon American philanthropy.

Mr. Tempel said it’s best to donate to well-known organizations with a solid background.

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