Q: I wish to financially support the disaster relief effort for Hurricane Irene. What charitable organizations does BBB recommend?
A: The BBB Wise Giving Alliance advises that even when needs are close to home, givers should take steps to assure themselves that their donations will go to reputable charities able to help victims.
Feeling a desire quickly to help those in need, we sometimes forget to heed advice that is relevant to all charitable giving. In the present situation, BBB advises donors especially to learn about what individual charities are doing and the timeframe 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 donors decide where to direct donations:
Take time to check out the charity. The best way to avoid being disappointed in helping storm and flood relief charities is to find out more about the charity before making the donation. Donors should review the charity's website and go to third-party sites such as the BBB's bbb.org/charity to verify a charity's accountability.
Identify what stage of relief the charity intends to provide. There are three general stages to flood relief efforts. Find out which stage the charity is intending to address.
The emergency response stage involves immediate rescue needs and takes place within the first week of the storm or flood.
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 clean up, repair and/or rebuilding homes, and other long-term recovery 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.
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 flood relief charity is registered.
Watch out for newly created entities that do not have a track record and/or experience in providing disaster relief.
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 e-mailing him at dflessner@ timesfreepress.com.