Lessons learned from Helping in Puerto Rico

I think, there are several reasons why our little, private initiative, helping in Puerto Rico, was so successful:

What worked well

  • The donation of personal water filters made sense. Clean drinking water is one of the most basic and important needs, even more so in hot locations with no air conditioning, electricity or running water. People have been drinking water from rivers and wells coming out of the rock, and bacteria contamination is a big deal.
  • It is hard to transport bottled water to remote locations. Water is heavy, and people need to drink a lot. So bottled water makes only some sense, but being able to make one’s own is a better solution.
  • The filters are very inexpensive. Many people are able to give $20.- and happy to do so.
  • The filters could be transported easily. We heard many stories from people in the mountains that can’t be reached by car. So when people try to reach them, how much water can they carry? But bringing a few filters shouldn’t be a problem.
  • Donations could be made through Amazon. Many people are concerned that their money goes into unnecessary overhead. But when they know what to get and where to send it, they are in full control and know exactly what happens with their money.
  • Since everybody ordered the same exact thing, packaging it up for transport was easier as all items had the same format and were very lightweight.
  • There was a specific deadline. Since The man who brought the donations with him was leaving just a few days later, action needed to be taken quickly.
  • Some people actually preferred to send money. And it was easy to make that possible for them. But we had to make clear that they were gifting it, not donating it, and there was no tax receipt available for this. That was fine with everybody. I asked that all the money in country will only be spent by the person that it was given to, and not handed out to others that we don’t know. The personal reliability is crucial.
  • We will take pictures and post them online, for people to see the success of their efforts. Social proof is essential.
  • We didn’t promote this anywhere other than on facebook and via one email. People could respond and got an immediate answer.

Lessons learned:

  • Don’t use a PO box if there is a weekend involved. Even though amazon delivers to PO boxes, the post office is obviously closed on Sundays.
  • Never underestimate people’s willingness to give! You can end up with more items than you thought and have to be able to transport them. If possible, create a checklist that people can choose from.
  • Some people will always come late and miss deadlines. Have a process in place for what to do. Have emails pre-written with instructions, if there is a last minute option for them to contribute.
  • If possible, have a follow up transport in place, so that donations can be accepted.
  • Don’t expect everybody who said “Yes” to actually take action. Some people forget or just can’t do it, even though they want to.
  • Start building a team as quickly as possible.Local pickups shouldn’t all be done by the same person who packs or delivers. It’s just too much.
  • Give regular updates, and share all the details of what you do. If there is a change of plan, tell them what will happen and ask the donors to reach out with any questions. They need to have the ability to change their mind and withdraw a donation if they disagree with a plan.
  • CELEBRATE! When a milestone is reached, or a generous donation in place, Let the community know! Everybody is proud to be part of a bigger picture.
  • No matter how big or small: Everything counts. $20.- is a LOT of money for some, but at the same time they might find that it’s not enough. But $20.- can buy 2 packs of AA batteries, which translates into 100 hours of flashlight. So it’s a big deal. Thank you!
  • Ask those who donate to share the information so that the operation gets a bigger visibility.
  • Only do what you can. Remember that being in country will be stressful, educational, overwhelming.
  • As long as the person delivering is stateside, he or she may feel excited knowing that a difference is being made. But in country, this will change: The stories that they hear will be overwhelming and disturbing. They will feel that what they brought isn’t good enough. They will feel inadequate. Sharing of goods might not be as easy as hoped for. Local transportation might be an issue.
  • Remember that when you do the work with an open heart, knowing that you can only do your best and have the highest intentions – that’s all you can do. If it was easy, everybody would do it. Most people don’t. There’s a reason for that.
  • Honor yourself and your limitations. Have a plan in place for debrief when you get back. You will need to sleep, decompress and talk it out with a person of trust. This is essential to avoid burnout. Don’t skip this step!


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