As we learn more about the 8.9-magnitude earthquake that hit near the northeast coast of Japan today, BBB urges givers to make sure their donations will go to legitimate and reputable charities and relief efforts that have the capability to help those in need. Help will be needed regarding the earthquake and the major tsunami that slammed Japan's eastern coast and that is expected to hit many areas of the Pacific today, potentially including the U.S. West Coast and Hawaii.
“When we learn of these disasters our natural instinct is to reach out to charities and relief efforts that can help; however, please take a moment to be sure you are connecting with those that actually can,” said Fred T. Elsberry, Jr., President and CEO of the BBB Serving Metro Atlanta, Athens & Northeast Georgia. “Not only do people need to be concerned about avoiding fraud, they also need to make sure their money goes to those that are equipped and experienced to handle the unique challenges of providing assistance.”
BBB offers the following seven tips to help Americans decide where to direct donations:
Rely on expert opinion when it comes to evaluating a charity.
Be cautious when relying on third-party recommendations such as bloggers or other Web sites, as they might not have fully researched the listed relief organizations. The public can go to www.bbb.org/charity to research charities and relief organizations to verify that they are accredited by the BBB and meet the 20 Standards for Charity Accountability.
Be cautious when giving online.
Be cautious about online giving, especially in response to spam messages and emails that claim to link to a relief organization. In response to the tsunami disaster in 2004, there were concerns raised about many Web sites and new organizations that were created overnight allegedly to help victims.
Find out if the charity has an on-the-ground presence in the disaster impact areas.
Unless the charity already has staff in the affected areas, it may be difficult to get new aid workers to quickly provide assistance. See if the charity’s website clearly describes what they can do to address immediate needs.
Find out if the charity is providing direct aid or raising money for other groups.
Some charities may be raising money to pass along to relief organizations. If so, you may want to consider “avoiding the middleman” and giving directly to charities that have a presence in the region. Or, at a minimum, check out the ultimate recipients of these donations to ensure the organizations are equipped to effectively provide aid.
Be wary of claims that 100 percent of donations will assist relief victims. Despite what an organization might claim, charities have fund raising and administrative costs. Even a credit card donation will involve, at a minimum, a processing fee. If a charity claims that 100 percent of collected funds will be assisting earthquake victims, the truth is that the organization is still probably incurring fund raising and administrative expenses. They may use some of their other funds to pay this, but the expenses will still be incurred.
Gifts of clothing, food or other in-kind donations.
In-kind drives for food and clothing, while well intentioned, may not be the best or quickest way to help those in need. Even if the organization has the staff and infrastructure to be able to properly distribute such aid, a money donation may be far more helpful to a charity that is responding to a crisis situation.
Donate directly to the relief charity you have chosen.
You may be tempted to make a donation by texting. Charities can raise significant sums this way, but be aware that it might take a long while for the money to reach the nonprofit if it is given through mobile texting. Text donations also typically have limitations on the amount you can give. To put your disaster relief gift to work faster, go directly to the charity’s website to make your donation, or call them with your credit card number.