Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Wise Giving

Art Taylor, president and CEO of the BBB Wise Giving Alliance:

“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.”

We all want to help when a tragedy strikes, and the Japanese trifecta of natural and nuclear disasters is particularly heartbreaking. The Red Cross is taking donations online, via text message and was at The Rose Bowl earlier this week.

If you're searching out other giving possibilities, be cautious. I met a couple guys at a party once who were talking about taking supplies and tents into an earthquake zone. I was so moved by their seeming sincerity that I almost wrote out a check right there. Then I decided I'd better do a little research.

But once I did, I couldn't find any record of them or their organization. It's possible they were completely serious, but I had to wonder how effective naive, inexperienced amateurs would be in a disaster zone.

Here are some tips from the BBB:

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 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.

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.


  1. Great advice in a confusing time....thanks, Karen.

  2. I think the USA may also be giving to Japan in another way: if the Japanese sell off some of their US Treasury bonds to fund the rebuilding of their nation. In which case we will be left begging to fund our huge deficit.

  3. You're welcome Lori, thanks for passing along the link.

    I don't know about the larger economic implications you mention, CP, or how they will affect our deficit. Interesting though - and shows just how interrelated our global village really is these days.