Be sure disaster relief charities are legitimate and equipped to help
March 14, 2011 – Grand Rapids, Michigan – As we learn more about the 8.9-magnitude earthquake that hit near the northeast coast of Japan on Friday, the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance warns that—as occurred following the tsunami in 2004, Katrina in 2005 and the earthquake in Haiti just last year—fraudulent charities will likely emerge to try and scam donations from well-meaning Americans. BBB WGA urges givers to make sure their donations will go to legitimate and reputable charities and relief efforts that have the capability to help those in need.
“Whenever there is a major natural disaster, be it home or abroad, 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,” said Ken Vander Meeden, BBB President. “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 of Western Michigan offers the following seven 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 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. In response to the tsunami disaster in 2004, there were concerns raised about many websites and new organizations that were created overnight allegedly to help victims.
Find out if the charity has an on-the-ground presence in the disaster impact 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.
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 earthquake 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.
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.
Look for details when texting a donation.
Beginning with the earthquake in Haiti, it’s become common to send a text to make a donation. Make sure you understand the amount to be donated, and whether there will be any service fees charged to your account. Be sure the offer clearly identifies which charity will receive the donation, then check out the charity.