Winsett: Know the charity before you donate

Winsett: Know the charity before you donate

June 3rd, 2011 by By Jim Winsett in Business Diary

Q: My family wishes to donate money for recovery assistance from the storms and tornado damage in our area. How do I know the money is being used to assist local victims?

A: Thankfully, our community is touched and concerned about our neighbors and wishes to help in the recovery. However, many times we do not know the best charity or organization to contribute monetarily or volunteer our time. As a result of the recent storms and tornadoes, our communities are responding with generous gifts of time and money.

But even when needs are close to home, givers should take steps to assure themselves that their donations will go to legitimate and reputable charities and relief efforts that have the capability to help victims locally.

In the present situation, the BBB Wise Giving Alliance advises donors to learn about what individual charities are doing and the time frame of their work.

Donors who know what to expect from the charities they support are less likely to question the benefit of their gifts.

BBB Wise Giving Alliance offers the following five tips to help consumers and business decide where to direct donations:

• Take time to check out the charity. The best way to avoid being disappointed in helping disaster relief charities is to find out more about the charity before making the donation. Unfortunately, most people do not.

Donors should review the charity's website and go to third party sites such as the BBB Wise Giving Alliance ( to learn more about the charity and verify its accountability.

• Identify what stage of relief the charity intends to provide. There are three general stages to disaster relief efforts. Find out which stage the charity intends to address.

The emergency response stage involves immediate rescue needs and takes place within the first week of the storm.

Next, disaster relief occurs in the first month and provides clothing and temporary shelter for displaced families.

Finally, the recovery stage can last over a year and involves cleanup, repair and/or rebuilding homes, and other long-term recovery needs. Remember that a qualified charity needs your donation today, but will also need support a year from now.

• 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 fundraising 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 storm victims, the truth is that the organization is still incurring fundraising and administrative expenses. They may use some of their other funds to pay this, but the expenses still will be incurred.

• Verify if the charity is registered to solicit donations in your state. Most states require charities to register with a state agency (usually the attorney general's office or the secretary of state's office) to solicit charitable contributions.

Contact your appropriate state agency to determine if the soliciting relief charity is properly registered. Watch out for newly created entities that do not have a track record and/or experience in providing disaster relief.

About the BBB Wise Giving Alliance

The BBB Wise Giving Alliance produces reports on more than 1,300 nationally soliciting charitable organizations.

The alliance does not rank charities but rather seeks to assist donors in making informed judgments by providing objective evaluations of national charities based on 20 strict standards. The outcomes of the evaluations are available online at

The BBB Wise Giving Alliance is an affiliate of the Council of Better Business Bureaus, the national organization representing 123 BBBs serving communities across the U.S. and Canada - evaluating and monitoring nearly 4 million local and national businesses and charities. Please visit for more charity and consumer advice information.

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