Q. My neighborhood wishes collectively to donate monies to victims of the devastating storms across our country. What advice may BBB provide in donating to a worthy relief effort?
A. Thank you for the desire to help those suffering at this time. Federal government weather forecasters logged preliminary reports of more than 500 tornadoes in the United States in a 30-day period earlier this spring. That remarkable total also underscores the damage and devastation these horrible storms have left in their wake. Multiple tornadoes struck ranging from Texas to the Northeast. The storms have devastated homes and businesses creating lose in the billions of dollars.
Oklahoma has also experienced extreme weather. Due to tornadoes, flooding and severe storms, the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management has declared that all of Oklahoma is under a state of emergency.
BBB Wise Giving Alliance continues to recommend contributing to experienced relief organizations that meet the 20 BBB Standards for Charity Accountability, particularly in the wake of natural disasters. Visit BBB's Give.org to access reports on these and other charities. Experienced relief organizations are more likely to provide quick and effective assistance.
If you are also considering crowdfunding sites, we offer the following additional advice:
1. Donate to People You Know. While charities can be vetted, it is much more difficult to assess the trustworthiness of individuals who have posted a request for assistance. As a result, it is safest to give to crowdfunding postings of people you personally know.
2. Review Crowdfunding Procedures. Crowdfunding platforms are not all the same. Some do a better job of vetting postings and projects that appear on their site than others. Review the site's description of its oversight procedures before you participate. If you can't easily find this description, visit a site that is more transparent.
3. Pictures May Not Be Authorized. Some crowdfunding postings may be using pictures of impacted families without their permission. As a result, don't assume a photo confirms an official connection. Again, each site has different rules and verifications.
4. Your gift may not be deductible. If a crowdfunding posting is claiming to be helping a specific named individual or family, donors in the U.S. generally cannot claim a federal income tax deduction as a charitable gift, even if the individual or family is in need. See IRS Publication 526, page 6, for more information on this subject.
5. How funds will be used? Vague descriptions of how the collected funds will be used should also be a yellow caution light. For example, will the funds be used to assist medical expenses, reconstruction, funerals or other activities? Thoughtful requests for funding will take the added step of identifying and verifying needs before money is raised.
Jim Winsett is president of the Better Business Bureau in Chattanooga.