Direct Relief International

Direct Relief International
Direct Relief International
Direct Relief International logo.png
Founder(s) William Zimdin and Dezso Karczag
Type Humanitarian Medical Aid
Founded August 23, 1948
Location Santa Barbara, California
Key people Thomas Tighe, Bhupi Singh
Focus Healthcare
Volunteers Over 400[1]
Employees 45 full-time, 9 part-time[1]
Motto 'Healthy people, better world, since 1948'

Direct Relief International is a nonprofit organization based in Santa Barbara, California that focuses on improving the quality of life by bringing critically needed medicines and supplies to local healthcare providers worldwide. Founded in 1948, Direct Relief International is one of two charities ranked by Forbes that has received a perfect fundraising efficiency score for five consecutive years and is ranked by the Chronicle of Philanthropy as California’s largest international nonprofit organization based on private support.

The organization is headed by President and CEO Thomas Tighe, who came into the position in October 2000, a 34-member Board of Directors, and an 11-member International Advisory Board. In the United States, it is classified by the IRS as a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt charity.[2]



In 1945, William Zimdin, an Estonian immigrant who had amassed significant wealth in pre-war Europe, began sending thousands of relief parcels containing food, clothing and medicines to relatives, friends, and former employees who were rebuilding their lives in the aftermath of World War II. These efforts were the cornerstone for the William Zimdin Foundation, established on August 23, 1948 as a California not-for-profit corporation.

After Zimdin’s death in 1951, Dezso (Dennis) Karczag, a Hungarian immigrant and close business associate of Zimdin assumed management of the organization. In 1957, the organization changed its name to the Direct Relief Foundation, and in 1982, the organization formally adopted the name Direct Relief International.

Assistance provided by Direct Relief in the postwar years was considered to be a means to enable people to help themselves. In 1950, this principle served as the basis for a revolving-loan fund, from which small grants were extended to refugees seeking to establish new lives, with repayments providing capital for subsequent grantees. While the grant program was stopped in the early 1960’s, the underlying notion remains integral to current program efforts.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the organization received an increasing number of requests for assistance related to health issues and from areas outside Europe. The geographic focus broadened and the programmatic focus narrowed, as the organization determined that providing medical assistance to indigenous facilities would achieve the greatest overall impact. The mission was refined to serve disadvantaged populations living in medically underserved communities throughout the world.

In 1962, Direct Relief International obtained a license as a wholesale pharmacy, which enabled the organization to secure prescription medicines for use abroad. This early experience in the handling of pharmaceutical products led to the development of strict internal protocols regarding the suitability of certain types of products, inventory controls, and the qualifications of trained health professionals on the receiving end of aid shipments. This focus also established strong ties to U.S. health care companies, which have long supported their efforts with donations of high value pharmaceutical and other medical resources that are allocated through our assistance program.

In Fiscal Year 2008, Direct Relief provided $214 million in direct aid through medical material assistance and targeted cash grants providing 49.7 million courses of treatment in 59 countries worldwide. With $0 of contributions spent on administration or fundraising, $39.80 was leveraged in medical material aid (wholesale) for every $1 spent. [3]


Since its inception, Direct Relief has provided appropriate and specifically requested medical resources to community-based institutions and organizations in over 140 countries including the United States.[4]


Direct Relief currently works with over 300 partner clinics, hospitals, associations, and organizations in 59 countries (as of 2008), spanning five continents, with an emphasis on people living in developing countries and people victimized by disaster or war. In 2007, Direct Relief provided $136 million in direct aid through medical material assistance and targeted cash grants providing 34.8 million courses of treatment in 59 countries. [5] Since 1948, Direct Relief International has linked over-abundant medical resources in the U.S. with unmet needs of charitable health facilities worldwide. In FY 2007, over 100 manufacturers, distributors, and many healthcare facilities contributed pharmaceuticals, medical supplies and equipment worth over $200 million to support these unmet needs.[6]


Since 2004 Direct Relief has delivered support to at-risk patients living in the United States on an ongoing basis and during times of emergency,totaling over 6,000 shipments of medicine and supplies valued at $250 million (wholesale). Direct Relief’s safety-net clinic program works to deliver medicine and supplies to the growing group of uninsured Americans through supporting clinics and health centers treating working-poor patients who would otherwise go without care or pay high, non-negotiated rates for their medicines. Direct Relief’s U.S. partner network now comprises more than 1,100 ongoing relationships with health centers and clinics across all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico.[7]

Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005 spurred Direct Relief to expand its Hurricane Preparedness Program, which equips clinics and health centers in vulnerable Gulf Coast and Atlantic Coast states, as well as Caribbean countries. Instituted in 2007, this program delivers medical aid to treat patients for an extended period should a hurricane hit. If not needed during hurricane season, the materials can be absorbed into the health facility's regular patient care.

In its home county of Santa Barbara, Direct Relief sponsors the annual Healthy Smiles Dental Program. The program aims to improve the oral health of low-income, uninsured and at-risk children and families in the community by providing them free dental treatment, comprehensive oral health kits, and oral health education. Through Healthy Smiles, over 60,000 children each year receive a dental kit and instruction, and approximately 120 children in Santa Barbara County each year receive a full range of dental treatment, from cleanings to tooth extractions. The children and their parents also receive instruction in English and Spanish on proper brushing and flossing technique, as well as the importance of a good diet.

Direct Relief also works with 50 other Santa Barbara organizations to assemble personal hygiene care packs for approximately 14,000 homeless families, home-bound individuals, and others in need of assistance. Since 2004, Direct Relief has provided over $100 million in cash, prescription medicines, and medical and dental supplies to serve low-income, uninsured patients receiving care at over 100 clinics in California. [8]

Disaster Relief

Throughout its history, Direct Relief has provided assistance in response to natural disasters and to refugee populations. Beginning with postwar refugee assistance in Eastern Europe and Greece, Direct Relief has also provided support for more than 40 years to Tibetan refugees, and has consistently responded with targeted medical aid to major natural disasters since the Peru earthquake in 1970. This assistance ranges from emergency shipments of critical medicines to targeted cash grants. The organization's disaster response system is organized around the principle of only responding to situations where their aid is specifically requested by indigenous organizations.

2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami

Since December 2004, Direct Relief has furnished over $59.5 million in direct aid to tsunami-affected areas, including $46 million in medical material aid and an infusion of financial resources totaling $13.7 million. Direct Relief had supplied 4.6 million courses of treatment of specifically requested medicines, supplies, and medical equipment provided through 68 shipments to India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and Somalia since the incident. In December 2007 Direct Relief announced a $100,000 grant to support maternal and child health in Indonesia through a renewed partnership with Yayasan Bumi Sehat, an Indonesian non-profit organization. Bumi Sehat focuses on providing reproductive, maternal, and child health for displaced, marginalized, and low-income populations. [9]

2005 Pakistan Earthquake

Since 2005, Direct Relief has provided $8.7 million in aid to victims of the Pakistan Earthquake. Of that aid, $7.5 million came in the form of medical resources that were specifically requested by end user health professionals. The remaining $1.1 million was distributed to 12 clinics, hospitals, associations, and organizations throughout the region in the form of targeted cash grants to improve health care infrastructure. In 2007, Direct Relief made two recent cash grants totaling $95,000 to groups dedicated to providing care to earthquake-affected communities.

Direct Relief has provided $50,000 to helped the Pakistan Institute of Prosthetic and Orthotic Sciences (PIPOS) expand their services to include rehabilitation for people who have suffered spinal cord injuries and were paralyzed from the earthquake.[10]

Hurricanes Katrina and Rita

Following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, Direct Relief became highly involved in relief work in the region, providing $47 million in assistance to more than 100 healthcare partners throughout the Gulf Coast, consisting of $42.4 million (wholesale) in medical material aid and $4.6 million in targeted cash grants as of August 2007.[11] The organization has continued to support affected communities with material aid and cash grants, and states that it plans to be active along the Gulf Coast for the long term of the recovery.ref>Ibid</ref>

2007 Peru Earthquake

Since the earthquake hit in August 2007, Direct Relief has provided more than $200,000 in medical material aid on the ground. The aid consisted of antibiotics, anti-inflammatory medications, intravenous solutions, as well as protective facial masks. In addition, Direct Relief provided personal care products, sutures, iodine tablets for water purification,blankets, and nebulizers with albuterol medication for asthmatics and people with other breathing difficulties. The contents were specifically requested by Direct Relief’s Peruvian partners and will be consigned to the Archdiocese of Lima, which has launched extensive relief efforts in response to the quake and also is attempting to assist people who are suffering from the severe cold snap in the interior mountain regions.[12]

Southern California Wildfires

Direct Relief was one of the main providers of medical emergency supplies in response to the Southern California fires. Since their outbreak in October 2007, Direct Relief has distributed 71 relief shipments – including over 80,000 masks that were distributed to local residents and emergency personnel – valued at $1.4 million (wholesale). All of these shipments contained materials specifically requested by first responders and area medical clinics. On December 19, Direct Relief presented $400,000 to the Council of Community Clinics on behalf of their 17 San Diego County member clinics for the outstanding services they provided during the wildfires.[13]

Civil Strife in Kenya

In response to severe humanitarian problems that have arisen in the most recent flare-up of violence in Naivasha, Nakuru and Limuru, Direct Relief is providing an additional $50,000 in emergency funds. Since the onset of civil strife in Kenya in 2007, Direct Relief has issued emergency funds of $100,000 and is sending emergency health kit with antibiotics, antifungals, antiseptic, wound care supplies, and sutures to partner OGRA Foundation. Direct Relief has provided air freighted shipments of wide-ranging antibiotics, wound care supplies, oral rehydration solutions, and anti-hypertensive drugs since the violence began.[14]

Rankings and Efficiency

Over the past year, Direct Relief again has received among the highest ratings of any U.S. nonprofit from the American Institute of Philanthropy (“A”), Charity Navigator (“four stars”), the Chronicle of Philanthropy ("California's largest International charity"), and Forbes (“100% fundraising efficiency”).Direct Relief also remains a member of the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance. [15] According to their web site, each dollar spent by the organization is able to generate between $21 and $35 (wholesale value) of medical material specifically requested by in-country health professionals to care for patients. In 2006, Direct Relief received an unanticipated and unrestricted bequest of more than $34 million from the estate of a longtime donor, Mr. H. Guy DiStefano. This gift will cover 100 percent of its traditionally low administrative and fundraising expenses, and allow Direct Relief to contribute $0 of donated funds to administrative/overhead costs.[16]

The most recent evaluations and rankings of Direct Relief include:

Forbes – In the magazine’s annual evaluation of America’s leading nonprofit organizations, Forbes recognized Direct Relief for the fifth consecutive year as one of only two nonprofit organizations in the United States that has been 100% efficient in fundraising over those years.[17]

Charity Navigator - In February 2007, Direct Relief was named a Charity Navigator "Four Star Charity," the group's highest ranking awarded to charities. Direct Relief has earned this distinction for three consecutive years.Direct Relief was also cited as one of the “10 of the Best Charities Everyone's Heard Of” and had the lowest percentage of funds spent on administrative and fundraising costs of the ten charities named. [17]

Better Business Bureau - Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance has noted Direct Relief's efficiency and found that Direct Relief meets the "Standards for Charity Accountability".[17]

Chronicle of Philanthropy - Direct Relief ranked within the top 25 international charities listed in "The Philanthropy 400" while making its seventh straight appearance in the overall list, which ranks U.S. charities by amount of private support.[17]

Consumers Digest - In its December 2006 issue, ranked Direct Relief the eighth most efficient charity in America with a program spending efficiency of 99.1 percent. Direct Relief ranked 13th overall in the cost to raise $100 and 17th in the amount of direct public support with nearly $220 million.[17]

Nonprofit Times - In its November 2006 issue, named Direct Relief the "Biggest Mover" of 2006, as the organization moved from 100 to 53 in the year’s "NPT 100" charity rankings.[17]


  1. ^ a b About Us, retrieved 5/5/2008
  2. ^ Frequently Asked Questions, retrieved 5/5/2008
  3. ^ DRI Spring 2008 Newsletter, retrieved 5/5/2008
  4. ^ About Us, retrieved 5/5/2008
  5. ^ Where We Work, retrieved 5/5/2008
  6. ^ About Us|Who Supports Us, retrieved 5/5/2008
  7. ^ Where We Work/US, retrieved 7/28/11
  8. ^ Where They Work/US, retrieved 5/5/2008
  9. ^ Indian Ocean Tsunami Emergency Response, retrieved 5/5/2008
  10. ^ 2005 Pakistan Earthquake Emergency Response, retrieved 5/5/2008
  11. ^ Hurricanes Emergency Response, retrieved 5/5/2008
  12. ^ 2007 Peru Earthquake, retrieved 5/5/2008
  13. ^ Southern California Fires, retrieved 5/5/2007
  14. ^ Civil Strife in Kenya, retrieved 5/5/2007
  15. ^ Finances, retrieved 5/5/2007
  16. ^ Press Release, retrieved 5/5/2007
  17. ^ a b c d e f Recognitions, retrieved 5/5/2008

External links

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