Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Help the Right Way

I'm not superstitious or religious and I certainly don't believe in curses.

But the country of Haiti has surely had more than its share of terrible luck. Natural disasters, crushing poverty and corrupt leadership have taken their toll on this most-impoverished country in the Western hemisphere. Even the New York Times today calls the country "star-crossed."

My book group last year read a wonderful memoir from Haitian writer Edwidge Danticat that made me much more familiar with Haiti than I previously had been.

I'd like to help out with the current earthquake relief efforts, and I'm sure many others will feel the same way. But it's important for all of us to direct our aid in properly. Unfortunately, there's a history of criminals taking advantage of widely publicized disasters to rip off well-intentioned but naive donors.

The Wise Giving Alliance of the Better Business Bureau offers these tips:

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 to research charities and relief organizations to verify that they are accredited by the BBB and meet the 20 Standards for Charity Accountability.

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 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.

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 Web sites and new organizations that were created overnight allegedly to help victims.

Find out if the charity has an on-the-ground presence in the impacted areas.

Unless the charity already has staff in the effected 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.

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.


  1. Thanks Karen. Great thoughts and advice-

  2. You're welcome. I did some research and found a medical charity that has a long history of work in Haiti. They currently have people on the ground delivering care and can put money to work immediately. I donated this morning. It's called Partners in Health,

  3. Or look up organizations on (as I do for all giving now) -- it rates charities based on their effectiveness in getting donated aid to the cause, rather than the organization's administrative and fundraising costs. Here's a long list of 4-star (their highest) rated charities serving Haiti now: You can also use the site to filter charities by location, rating, cause, etc.

    Jane Auerbach

  4. Great post. Thank you Karen!

    I've been following the story about how banks and credit card companies get 3% of your donation as a transaction fee. Public pressure seems to working.

  5. Yes, I often recommend Charity Navigator also, Jane. That's a terrific group.

    Paula, I heard about the banks and credit co's waiving their fees also. It seems like a lot of folks want to really do some good this time around. I'm hoping that Haiti will be so flooded with money and help that the country will never again be the poorest and most desperate place in the hemisphere. Some good can come out of this tragedy, I hope.

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  7. Never put off till tomorrow what may be done today..........................

  8. Exactly, Gigi. Obviously what these charities are doing is fronting money, or using credit, to get immediate supplies and other help. They will rely on donations that come through in the next days and weeks to replenish their budgets.