Something happens. A natural disaster strikes. A community experiences tragedy or loss. A controversial law is proposed or enacted. A leader decides to act, or not. You want to do something. But what? And how? With whom? And importantly, why? 

There is no single way to organize a response. Each event or action at the local, national, or international level brings with it unique circumstances, pressures and opportunities, and impacts communities and individuals in different ways. Because of this we recommend that you fill out our short questionnaire and schedule a time to meet with a Pace Center staff member before moving forward with any other form of response. In this meeting we hope to illuminate potential collaborations with others on campus, provide you resources for ways you might want to respond and help you avoid common pitfalls and ethical dilemmas often involved in systemic responses to world events. Contact Geralyn Williams, assistant director for student engagement and leadership, at [email protected] with questions.


For the purpose of clarity, two primary types of world events are identified and defined here: Natural Disasters and Tragedies. 

Natural Disasters are events of nature that cause physical catastrophic destruction, commonly referred to as "acts of god".

Tragedies result from harm caused directly to individuals by other individuals. Examples of tragedies include mass shootings, bombings, and other human acts of violence and terror committed by humans.   

Before Planning any Response

Schedule a meeting with the Pace Center to help you get started with your response. At this meeting, you can share more about why you are interested in responding to an event and how you are approaching your response. Pace Center staff will discuss what practices and resources are available to ensure an impactful and positive response and connect you to others who might have similar goals. Sign up to meet with a Pace Center Staff Member. In addition you may want to prepare for this meeting by considering these questions.

If you are a graduate student, please reach out directly to the Graduate School to set up a meeting. Please also consider making use of the resource below.

We also recommend that you consider the process of being recognized as an ODUS student organization so that you can book space and have an account for purchasing food and other items on campus.

Raise Funds

Fundraising is typically a first instinctual response, but in order to ensure an ethical and positive impact we highly recommend that before you start you identify a single relief organization where donated funds will go and sign up for a meeting with a Pace Center Staff Member.

Cash Donations

Princeton University is a tax-exempt institution and is limited by law in transferring cash donations to other tax-exempt organizations. To facilitate cash donations, the Office of Religious Life (ORL) has a "chapel fund" which is exempt from this restriction. Funds must be deposited into this account in order to be passed on to an identified non-governmental organization (NGO) relief organization. The Pace Center business manager can assist with depositing funds into the ORL account, working with the ORL Finance Administrator to transfer the funds to the NGO designated for the donations.

Online Donations

So-called "crowdfunding" organizations like Indiegogo may grant permission to use their online services, free-of-charge, for disaster relief fundraising. However, they will need account information from the relief organization before granting this permission. DO NOT START online fundraising without this arrangement in place so that you can guarantee the giver that their money will go directly to the organization you select. What you don’t want to happen is to find yourself in the ethical dilemma of having raised funds that can’t be passed on to the organization for which you were purportedly raising money.

A common response to a natural disaster is to consider physical donations such as personal hygiene items, blankets, flashlights and clothes, to name a few. It has been shown that these often have little chance of getting to affected areas in a timely manner. Much more importantly, it is often the case that these items are not  what the individuals or community actually needs. The recommended practice is to hold drives for monetary donations. View this resource at for more on best practices around donating.

Identify a Relief Organization

It can be very difficult to identify the right organization. However, those who have previously worked in the area and native students are a great place to start. You have to be careful to avoid nepotism in this choice. It is common for a student or faculty member to know someone who works at an NGO in the vicinity of the event, but that does not mean that that NGO has the expertise or resources to use an influx of funds to provide relief to those affected by an event.

Choose a Single Organization

It will be much easier to choose just one organization because of the complications around donations explained above. To help you narrow down you might consult with Idealist(link is external). In any case we suggest that you verify the validity of an organization in Charity Navigator.

You may, at the end of this process realize that the best way to offer support for an affected country or region is to raise awareness rather than money. In this case the Pace Center offers several suggestions and staff support for discerning what type of advocacy might be most effective and how to achieve it. Please sign up to meet with a Pace Staff Member to discuss this option.

Host a Meeting

Get the right people for a first meeting: You want to be sure you are drawing on all possible resources across campus. Invite any concerned students, faculty or staff, strategically targeting particular centers, departments, etc. as appropriate for the type and location of the particular event to which you are responding. University partners such as Princeton in Asia, Princeton in Latin America, Princeton in Africa and others can prove to be valuable area specific resources, information and relationships.

Use this Checklist for Your Meeting.

Hold a Vigil or Protest


The Pace Center does not provide support and resources to help students interested in hosting a vigil in response to a world event, but we are happy to help the student contact a member of staff in the Office of Religious Life who has the expertise in supporting these types of events. Sign up to meet with a Pace Center Staff Member and we can connect you to them.


Please review the policy guide for students who are holding a protest on campus from the Office of the Dean of Undergraduate Students (ODUS).

Principles of Disaster Relief

At the Pace Center we believe that the most important aspect of effective response is to ensure that no harm or unintended consequences result from response efforts. Though we do not typically offer financial support for relief trips, we do offer advising and training to students who want to go on these trips. Sign up to meet with a Pace Center Staff Member(link is external). If a group chooses to move forward with a trip, we recommend the group take trainings together around group dynamics and using the Field Guide to Service as well as taking online training through Disaster Ready and Red Cross.

Training Resources


Frequently Asked Questions