Americans seeing the devastation wreaked by recent tornadoes are responding with generous gifts of time and money, as they've traditionally responded to disasters throughout the world. But even when needs are close to home, givers should take steps to assure themselves that their donations will go to legitimate and reputable charities and relief efforts that have the capability to help victims, cautions the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance.
"Despite long experience in giving for major natural disasters, and with the desire to quickly help those in need, Americans sometimes forget to heed advice that's relevant to all charitable giving," says Art Taylor, President and CEO of the BBB Wise Giving Alliance. "In the present situation, we advise donors especially to learn about what individual charities are doing and the time frame of their work. Donors who know what to expect from the charities they support are less likely to question the benefit of their gifts."
BBB Wise Giving Alliance offers the following five tips to help Americans decide where to direct donations:
Take time to check out the charity. The best way to avoid being disappointed in helping Storm Relief Charities is to find out more about the charity before making the donation. Unfortunately, most people don't. Donors should review the charity's website and go to third party sites such as the BBB Wise Giving Alliance (www.bbb.org/charity) to learn more about the charity and verify its accountability.
Identify what stage of relief the charity intends to provide. There are three general stages to relief efforts. Find out which stage the charity is intending to address. The Emergency Response stage involves immediate assistance and rescue needs and takes place within the first days after the storm. Next, Disaster Relief occurs in the first month and provides clothing and temporary shelter for displaced families. Finally, the Recovery Stage can last over a year and involves clean up, repair and/or rebuilding homes, and other long-term recovery 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 disaster 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.
Verify if the charity is registered to solicit donations in your state. Most states require charities to register with a state agency (usually the Attorney General's office or the Secretary of State's office) in order to solicit charitable contributions. Contact your appropriate state agency to determine if the soliciting disaster relief charity is properly registered. Watch out for newly created entities that do not have a track record and/or experience in providing disaster relief.
For more tips on tornado relief that you can trust, visit www.bbb.org/us/consumer/tips/tornado-relief.