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Jim Winsett of the BBB.

Q. My church is considering support of victims as results of Hurricane Dorian. What advice may BBB provide in deciding how to provide that support?

A. As Hurricane Dorian devastated the Bahamas and now tracking up the coast of the eastern Atlantic shore, BBB Wise Giving Alliance (BBB's Give.org) and Better Business Bureau encourage donors to support experienced disaster relief organizations. The need and demand will be high, and It's important for charity disaster appeals to be clear about what activities their support will fund.

Dorian is a devastating storm; most of us will be motivated to provide immediate help. Donations to experienced disaster relief efforts are the best option to achieve that goal.

(Read more: Dorian, back to a Category 3 hurricane, creeps up US coast)

A recent public survey, www.give.org/donortrust distributed earlier this year shows that only 24% of individuals say charity disaster relief appeals are very clear. So, BBB Wise Giving Alliance also encourages charities to make sure their relief solicitations explain the nature of their disaster assistance activities.

In previous weather disasters, Give.org has seen crowdfunding posts from individuals claiming to raise funds so they can deliver and distribute water, food and flashlights to impacted areas. Even if sincere, such efforts may risk lives, complicate access by professional efforts and potentially divert donations that could be directed in more helpful ways.

BBB warns, donors should watch out for newly created organizations that emerge who are either inexperienced in addressing disasters or may be seeking to deceive donors at a vulnerable time.

BBB also expects to see price-gougers and "storm chasers" looking to make a quick buck off of preparation and clean-up efforts (BBB.org/Storm). Consumers can report suspected scams to BBB Scam Tracker (BBB.org/ScamTracker) or the office of the Attorney General in their state.

BBB Wise Giving Alliance suggests that donors keep the following tips in mind to help avoid questionable appeals for support:

1. Verify the trustworthiness of soliciting relief organizations by visiting Give.org to access free reports that specify if the charity meets the 20 BBB Standards for Charity Accountability.

2. See if the charity has an on-the-ground presence in the impacted areas. Unless the charity already has skilled operations in the affected areas, it may be difficult to provide assistance quickly and effectively. See if the charity's website or appeal clearly describes what the charity can do to address immediate relief needs as well as longer-term recovery needs.

3. Find out if the charity is providing direct aid or is 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 give directly to charities that have a presence in the region. Appeals for disaster-related donations should clearly state how contributions will be used.

4. Be cautious about gifts of clothing, food or other in-kind donations. In-kind drives for food and clothing, while well-intentioned, may not be the quickest way to help those in need – unless the organization has the staff and infrastructure to hand out such aid properly. Donated goods may impose extra costs on a charity to cover storage and distribution, and also may not meet the most urgent needs.

5. Understand crowdfunding and GoFundMe sites. While there are resources like Give.org to help vet charities, it is difficult to vet individuals. If you decide to contribute to an individual via crowdfunding, it is safest to give to people you personally know. Also, remember that gifts to help a specific individual generally are not deductible as charitable donations for federal income tax purposes. Remember to check the terms and conditions of the crowdfunding platform to learn how your donation might be affected.

For additional disaster giving tips visit at Give.org

The emergency phase of a disaster is just the beginning. Full recovery from a disaster will be a long-term effort that can take many months or years to accomplish, depending on the extent of the damage.

The following is a list of BBB Accredited Charities (i.e., organizations that meet the 20 BBB Standards for Charity Accountability) that announce (on their websites) their readiness to assist with Hurricane Dorian relief assistance. This list will be updated as additional relief efforts come to BBB's Give.org attention.

  • American Humane
  • American Red Cross
  • Americares Foundation
  • Direct Relief
  • GlobalGiving
  • Humane Society of the United States
  • Heart to Heart International
  • International Medical Corps
  • Mercy Corps
  • Salvation Army
  • Save the Children
  • World Vision

Visit www.bbb.org for continuing updates on charities support disaster relief for hurricane Dorian.

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

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