Hurricane Relief – Donor Beware!

The United States is one of the most generous countries in the world and that is especially true when there is a major disaster. For those who want to donate to the victims of Hurricane Florence, or any disaster, avoid impulse giving and consider the following donor tips to make sure your money does the most good.

Donate to Established Charities. Donate to charities you are familiar with or that have a proven track record of experience in disaster relief. Do more research about charities that come up in web search solely in response to a disaster or those with unfamiliar names.

Avoid Scam Copycat Sites. Donors should also be aware that it is common for scammers to set-up fake websites with names that are confusingly similar to well-known charities. Scammers are also known to set up fake GoFundMe and other crowdfunding accounts. Scrutinize websites carefully and make sure you aren’t donating to a scam copycat site. Make sure crowdfunding accounts are sponsored by the charity itself and not a 3rd party.

Research the Organization. Donors should familiarize themselves with the organization, its mission, and its effectiveness before giving. Always ask for information in writing – be wary if an organization will not provide information about its charitable programs and finances upon request. Legitimate charitable organizations are happy to send information in writing to prospective donors. Donors can also check guidestar.org to review the organization’s financial data and learn more about its mission and finances.

Avoid Telephone Solicitations. Be wary of solicitations from telemarketers as many such solicitations send a disproportionate amount of donations to the telemarketer and very little to the charity. Also, telephone solicitations are often made by a professional fundraiser who is required to register with various states. If a donor chooses to accept the call, the donor should ask whether the telemarketer is registered in the donor’s state and what percentage of any donation will go to the charity versus the telemarketer. Donors who give directly to a charity can ensure more of their donation makes it to the disaster relief effort rather than fundraising costs.

Understand How Your Money Will Be Spent. Donors should find out from the charity what it plans to do with their contribution including what services and organizations it will support. Find out whether the charity has experience working in the affected local area or whether it is working with any local relief organizations. Review the charity’s financial reports for information about how it has spent its donations historically. Also, find out what the charity plans to do with excess donations. Avoid donating to charities that give vague responses to concrete questions about how the money will be spent.

Text Solicitations. Donors should always check the charity’s website or call the charity to ensure it has authorized contributions to be made via text message. In an emergency situation, consider that donations made via text messaging may not reach the charity until after the donor’s phone bill is paid. It is often faster to contribute directly to the charity in a more traditional manner.

Check Before Donating to a Crowd Funding Site. Fraudulent crowdfunding campaigns are on the rise. Donors should make sure their contribution to campaigns set up by individuals on sites such as GoFundMe will go to the charity and not to the person raising the funds. Do not make a contribution through such a site unless it is directly run by the charitable organization or you know and trust the person who is administering the campaign.

Delete Unsolicited Spam Emails. Legitimate charities rarely send unsolicited emails. Donors should check the Department of Homeland Security’s tips to avoid common scams, such as phishing attacks, posted here.

Never Give Cash. Contribute by credit card or a check made payable directly to the charity.

Be Careful About Sharing Personal Information. Donors should avoid giving credit card or personal information over the phone or by text message. Consider contributing by a third party payment service such as paypal to protect your personal information.

Report Suspicious Organizations. If you believe an organization is misrepresenting its work or that a scam is taking place, report it to your local Attorney General.

Ellis Carter is a nonprofit lawyer with Caritas Law Group, PC. To contact Ellis, call 602-456-0071 or email us at info@caritaslawgroup.com.

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