As the East Coast recovers from Hurricane Sandy, many charities are eager to come to the rescue. With so many organizations working to raise relief funds, the IRS announced that they are expediting applications from hurricane relief groups trying to earn nonprofit designation.
With so many groups raising money for hurricane relief efforts, how can you be sure you’re donating to a legitimate charitable organization?
The IRS says a good rule of thumb is to contribute to established charitable organizations, including churches. Established organizations administer relief programs more efficiently than newly formed groups due to their existing fundraising and distribution infrastructure. If you're curious about a charity that has contacted you, or you want to contribute to relief efforts, check out the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the U.S. Government’s main web portal at FirstGov.gov which lists organizations that provided support to victims of Hurricane Katrina.
The Better Business Bureau (BBB) also warns:
Be cautious when giving online.
Remain vigilant regarding online giving, particularly in response to unsolicited spam messages, emails or social media posts linking to relief organizations. If you want to give to a charity involved in relief efforts, go directly to the charity’s website to make a donation. In response to hurricanes Katrina and, Rita, and the tsunamis throughout Asia, the FBI raised concerns about websites and organizations that were created overnight, allegedly designed to aid in relief efforts.
Rely on expert opinion when evaluating a charity.
Be cautious when relying on third-party recommendations of charities from non-experts, such as bloggers and friends who may not have fully researched the relief organizations they endorse. The public can visit the BBB for Charities and Donors to research a charity or relief organization’s accreditation by the BBB.
Be wary of claims that 100 percent of donations are used to assist relief victims.
Despite organizational claims, charities incur fundraising and administrative costs. Even a credit card donation will involve a processing fee at a minimum. If a charity claims that 100 percent of collected funds are used to assist hurricane victims, understand their administrative expenses might be subsidized by other funds collected by the organization.
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 rapid 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 raise money to pass along to relief organizations. You may want to consider cutting out the middleman and giving directly to a charitable organization with a presence in the affected region.
Gifts of clothing, food or other in-kind donations.
In-kind drives for food and clothing, while well-intentioned, may not be the quickest way to help those in need, unless the relief organization has an established infrastructure to distribute such aid properly. Inquire about the charity’s transportation and distribution plans and remain wary of those without experience in disaster relief assistance.
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