In the wake of a natural disaster, many of us are compelled to reach out and help, and if we can’t do so physically, we often contribute financially to help recovery efforts and assist those in need.
While such donations are desperately needed, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) offers some important guidelines to protect you from those seeking to take advantage of donors in times of crisis. BBB's Wise Giving Alliance aides consumers in finding trustworthy charities and offers the following tips to help protect you:
- Be cautious when giving online, especially in response to spam messages and emails that claim to link to a relief organization. To donate to a specific charity, go directly to that charity’s website instead.
- Rely on expert opinion when it comes to evaluating a charity, as opposed to third-party recommendations. You can research charities and relief organizations at give.org, and verify that they’re accredited by the BBB and meet the 20 Standards for Charity Accountability.
- Understand crowdfunding. Keep in mind that some crowdfunding sites do very little vetting of individuals who decide to post for assistance after a disaster. If you decide to contribute via crowdfunding, give to people you personally know that have posted requests for assistance.
- Be wary of claims that 100 percent of donations will assist relief victims. Despite what an organization might claim, charities have fundraising and administrative costs. Even a credit card donation will involve, at a minimum, a processing fee.
- 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 bring in new aid workers to provide assistance quickly. See if the charity’s website clearly describes what the charity 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 “avoid the middleman” and give directly to those who have a presence in the region. Or, at a minimum, check out the ultimate recipients of these donations to see whether they’re equipped to provide aid effectively.
- 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 distribute such aid properly. Ask the charity about its transportation and distribution plans. Be wary of those who aren’t experienced in disaster relief assistance.