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Jim Winsett of the BBB.

Q. My family wants to support victims of the earthquake disaster in Ecuador. How do we choose the right charity or support group that will have immediate impact and benefit?

A. Thank you for your concern and desire to help. With hundreds killed and thousands injured by the devastating earthquake in Ecuador over the weekend, generous Americans are already seeking ways to support those in need through donations. BBB Wise Giving Alliance advises donors to avoid being taken advantage of by questionable solicitations or wasting their money on poorly managed relief efforts.

This news out of Ecuador is heartbreaking, and people want to help as soon as possible, and that is wonderful. BBB advises that donors need to follow some key rules about supporting disaster relief so that their gifts get to those who need them most.

Across the world, relief and development organizations and governments have begun responding to the earthquake in Ecuador. American charities have also begun accepting donations to assist in the region. We suggest that before you choose a charity to give to, read the tips listed below, and remember to check out the charity on

- Be cautious when giving online. Be cautious about spam messages and emails 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.

- 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 to research relief organizations and other charities to verify that they are accredited by the BBB which means they 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 fund-raising and administrative costs. Even a credit card donation will involve, at a minimum, a processing fee. If charity claims 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. It may use some of its other funds to pay these costs, but the expenses will still 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. At a minimum, check out the ultimate recipients of these donations to see whether they are equipped to provide aid effectively.

- 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 who are not experienced in disaster relief assistance.

BBB offers this list of nationally soliciting charities that have been accredited and meet all 20 BBB Charity Standards to assist Ecuador relief efforts.

- Adventist Development and Relief Agency International

- All Hands Volunteers

- American Red Cross

- Brother's Brother Foundation


- Catholic Relief Services

- Global Giving Foundation

- Heart to Heart International

- Heifer Project International

- Mercy Corps

- Operation USA

- Oxfam America

- Save the Children

- US Fund For UNICEF

- World Vision

Jim Winsett is president of the Better Business Bureau in Chattanooga.