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 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.
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, Sign up to Meet with a Pace Center Staff Member
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.
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 sign up for a meeting with a Pace Center Staff Member.
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.
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 response 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 Philanthropy.com for more on best practices around donating.
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. 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.
Get the right people in the room 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.
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 that ODUS has for students who are holding a protest on campus: https://odus.princeton.edu/protests
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. 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. Another option is to propose a trip through our Breakout Princeton program which is a student-driven program that gives students the opportunity to spend their spring and fall breaks engaging with domestic social issues through immersion in communities.
"Local" Exception: Should you wish to be in a position to get involved in a response to a local event, you may be interested in joining the Princeton Students Veterans Alliance, a student-led and initiated group sponsored by the Pace Center. Members commit to extensive training through Team Rubicon and may be “on call” at different points in the year should a need arise. If you are interested in getting involved please click here to learn more. You need not be a veteran to join.
- Field Guide to Service - Especially Section One on Preparation
- Disaster Ready Training
- Red Cross Training
- Team Rubicon Training
- Princeton Student Veterans Alliance
- Other Pace Trainings
If you have any questions that are not resolved by this resource, we encourage you to sign up to meet with a Pace Center staff member.
How do I go about identifying a disaster relief organization?
Please review the Identify a Relief Organization section
How do I know if the disaster relief organization I identified is a reputable one?
We recommend that you follow the Host a Meeting steps above and use this guide to help ensure the organization is legitimate, receiving donations, able to receive electronic donations, and able to apply donated funds directly to relief efforts.
I want to organize a disaster relief response trip. Do you have funding to support my trip?
The Pace Center does not have funding to support disaster relief trips. We offer advising and training to students who want to go on these trips. Sign up to meet with a Pace Center Staff Member.
I want to create a donation drive in response to a natural disaster. Where do I start?
A common response to a natural disaster response is to consider physical donations such as personal hygiene items, blankets, flashlights and clothes, to name a few. It has been shown that these items 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 need. The recommended practice is to hold drives for monetary donations. View this resource at Philanthropy.com for more on best practices around donating.
My friends know that I’m from the area where this natural disaster occurred and they’re offering their support. What do I do?
Schedule a meeting with the Pace Center to help you get started. At this meeting, you can share more about if and how you are interested in responding to the natural disaster and what resources and support the Pace Center can offer you.