Oliver: Be generous but smart when donating for disaster relief

Published: Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2017 12:01 a.m. CDT
Joan Oliver — H. Rick Bamman

The scenes of destruction from Hurricane Harvey in Texas and Hurricane Irma in Florida and the Caribbean are hard to look at. So much devastation. So much cleanup to be done.

Yet there also were scenes of heroism, as ordinary folks joined first responders in doing whatever was necessary to rescue those imperiled.

It is hard not to feel powerless sitting hundreds of miles away. Yet our desire to help needs to be tempered by the realization that for as many good people who are trying to help, there also are a lot of bad ones. Scammers abound even in the best of times, but disasters are prime times for the unscrupulous.

So it’s best to do some homework before donating.

The Better Business Bureau Wise Giving offers tips to avoid scammers in times of crisis:

• Verify the trustworthiness of soliciting relief organizations. One way to do that is to visit Give.org to see whether the charity meets the BBB’s standards of accountability.

• See whether the charity has an on-the-ground presence in the affected areas. This ensures that the aid will get to those who need it faster. See whether the charity’s website clearly describes what the charity can do to address immediate needs.

• Find out whether the charity is providing direct aid or is raising money for other groups. Sometimes groups raise money to pass along to relief organizations. Perhaps it would be better to give directly to charities that have a presence in the region.

• Be cautious about gifts of clothing, food or other in-kind donations. Although well-intentioned, it might not be the quickest way to help those in need, unless the organization has staff and infrastructure to distribute the aid properly.

• Understand crowdfunding. Some crowdfunding sites do very little to vet those who post requests for assistance after a disaster, and it is difficult to verify their trustworthiness. If you decide to donate through a crowdfunding website, it’s probably best to give to people who you personally know who have posted requests.

• Phases of disaster relief. Remember that the need for donations will continue long after the headlines stop. There will be many opportunities to help for those who are truly concerned. You have time to make sure the charity to which you are donating is legitimate. Websites that evaluate charities, such as Charity Navigator and GuideStar, also offer help in finding legitimate organizations. Both have a list of credible charities for those who wish to help victims of Hurricane Harvey. No doubt they also will post lists for victims of Hurricane Irma.

One more thing: Be careful clicking on any links that your friends post on social media websites in regard to charities. It’s best to go directly to the charity’s website because scammers often use links that look legitimate but aren’t.

Charity Navigator (www.charitynavigator.org) also offers a list of tips for giving in a time of crisis.

So give from your heart. Just make sure to do your homework first.

• Joan Oliver is a former Northwest Herald assistant news editor. She has been associated with the Northwest Herald since 1990. She can be reached at jolivercolumn@gmail.com.