Each day we see how disasters are affecting our fellow citizens. The images of the recent floods in Colorado, the wild fires in the west, and the fire that destroyed the recently rebuilt Boardwalk in New Jersey are horrific.
You want to help but you also want to make sure that your donation is actually helping those in need.
Whenever there is a major natural disaster there are two things you can count on. The first is the generosity of Americans to donate time and money to help victims, and the second is the appearance of poorly run and in some cases fraudulent charities. Not only do Americans need to be concerned about avoiding fraud, they also need to make sure their money goes to competent relief organizations that are equipped and experienced to handle the unique challenges of providing assistance.
BBB offers the following six 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 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 100 percent of collected funds will be assisting hurricane 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.
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. Understand that with today’s technology a website can literally be built in an hour mimicking a legitimate charitable organization wanting to scam you out of your money.
Find out if the charity has an on-the-ground presence in the impacted 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.
Gifts of clothing, food or other in-kind donations.
In-kind drives for food and clothing—while well intentioned— may not necessarily be the quickest way to help those in need - unless the organization has the staff and infrastructure to be able to properly distribute such aid. Ask the charity about their transportation and distribution plans. Be wary of those who are not experienced in disaster relief assistance
Tips on giving through text messages:
• Confirm the number directly with the source. While BBB Wise Giving Alliance has not yet heard of any scams relying on text message donations, this emerging method for donating is ripe for exploitation by scammers.
• Be aware that text donations are not immediate. Depending on the text message service used by the charity, text donations can take anywhere from 30-90 days to be transferred to the designated charity. If you would like the donation to be received immediately by the charity, you can give online through the charity Web site, by calling the charity directly or by sending a check in the mail.
• Review the fine print. When you give to a charity through text message, you might also be signing yourself up to receive text message updates from the charity in the future. A charity should include the details of its text campaign on its Web site so you can see what you’re signing up for and how you can opt out.
• Research the charity. Giving wisely to a charity isn’t just about making sure that the solicitation isn’t coming from scammers. Wise donors make sure their donations are going to charities that are best equipped to help in the relief efforts and will responsibly use the money for its intended purpose.