In an article titled, “What will your Haiti relief donation go toward?” CNN put together a list of the best places to send your humanitarian dollar. So many choices should stump us because, as Bill Quigley points out, Haiti has the most nongovernmental organizations of any country in the world. Given such a rich set of options, no wonder we need CNN and Charity Navigator, not to mention rankings of Top Disaster Relief Organizations and Ten Top Humanitarian Charities.

Which of the following call out to you?

- AmeriCares
- CARE
- Concern Worldwide
- Food For the Poor
- Love a Child
- Mercy Corps
- Project Hope
- Samaritan’s Purse (top rated among two rankings)
- Save the Children
- Shelterbox
- World Concern

Such is the logic of choice: if we choose where we’d like to put our dollars, then surely it’s fair that organizations should compete for these dollars. And if there are so many choices, as there are in Haiti, then we need someone to navigate what seems a chaotic field of contenders. So humanitarian reviewing makes sense: we want mileage for our money and can feel good that we’re chipping in for a good cause.

Yet even as CNN helps me select the best among the humanitarians, I see in the side-bar advertisement “Free Military Tax Preparation Online,” which leads me to Military OneSource. It is tempting to wonder how the valuation of humanitarian effort serves as the content that helps bring in revenue by selling ad space. Humanitarian reviewing, it seems, not only helps channel our dollars to the winners, but is also valuable for converting our attention into another bottom line.

Humanitarian reviewing helps us compare what might otherwise be impossibly incomparable: certain humanitarian efforts are more valuable–more valued, to draw from market lingo–than others. As Charity Navigator puts it,

Charity Navigator, America’s premier independent charity evaluator, works to advance a more efficient and responsive philanthropic marketplace by evaluating the financial health of over 5,400 of America’s largest charities.

If we had previously missed the financial dimension of humanitarianism, then Charity Navigator makes it as clear as day: we need to understand our relief donation as part of the world of the marketplace.

But sources such as CNN and Charity Navigator aren’t simply in the market for commercial revenue (I notice in the sidebar of Charity Navigator that Acura is “Introducing the Acura ZDX. It’s not new. It’s NEXT.”): they declare their ability to adjudicate how you might best convert your financial capital into a social good. You want help choosing? Turn to the experts. Turn to the taste-makers. There is a system of judgment that helps us distribute resources to those who distribute relief, turning social capital into financial capital. Even if you’d never paused to wonder about it, if you were ever in doubt, where you spend your humanitarian dollar can indeed be reviewed, rated, and ranked.

Thanks to Krissy Darch for pointing out the CNN article. Image courtesy of Charity Navigator.

Ray Hsu is the author of the forthcoming Cold Sleep Permanent Afternoon. His first book, Anthropy, won the Gerald Lampert Award. He has published over a hundred poems in over thirty-five literary journals internationally. While teaching for two years in a US prison, he founded the award-winning Prison Writing Workshop. He now teaches creative writing at the University of British Columbia.