Q Hurricane Sandy has devastated many parts of the Northeast, and I would like to help in the rebuilding efforts. Does the BBB have tips on how to get my donation to where it is most needed?
A In the wake of Hurricane Sandy hitting the Northeast, BBB Wise Giving Alliance offers the following tips to help donors decide where to direct donations to assist hurricane victims:
• Be cautious when giving online. Be cautious about online giving, especially in response to unsolicited spam messages and emails and social media posts that claim to link to a relief organization. If you want to give to a charity involved in relief efforts, go directly to the charity's website.
In response to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and the Asian tsunamis, the FBI and others raised concerns about websites and new organizations that were created overnight, allegedly to help victims.
• Rely on expert opinion when it comes to evaluating a charity. Be cautious when relying on third-party recommendations such as bloggers or other websites, as they may not have fully researched the relief organizations they list. The public can go to www.bbb.org/charity to research charities and relief organizations and 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 fundraising 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 hurricane victims, the truth is that the organization is still probably incurring fundraising and administrative expenses. It may use some of its other funds to pay these costs, but the expenses still will be incurred.
• 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 assistance quickly. See if the charity's website clearly describes what the charity 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 those that have a presence in the region. Or, at a minimum, check out the ultimate recipients of these donations to see whether they are equipped to provide aid effectively.
• Check on need for 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 distribute such aid properly.
Ask the charity about its transportation and distribution plans. Be wary of those that are not experienced in disaster relief assistance.
Get answers to your questions each Friday from Jim Winsett, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau Inc., which serves Southeast Tennessee and Northwest Georgia. Submit questions to his attention by writing to Business Editor Dave Flessner, Chattanooga Times Free Press, P.O. Box 1447, Chattanooga, TN, 37401-1447, or by emailing him at dflessner@ timesfreepress.com.