DALLAS -- Disasters like Hurricanes Harvey and Irma are usually followed with an outburst of generosity from people motivated by the stories and pictures of fellow human beings struggling and in peril.
However, while donating will help satisfy the desire to help, it's often unknown exactly how a contribution reaches the desired destination.
And with nearly 500 domain names associated with Harvey, according to the Center for Internet Security, one should be smart about their philanthropy before opening up their wallet.
“People’s generosity is amazing and terrific,” said Chief Philanthropy Officer for Communities Foundation of Texas Sarah Cotton Nelson. “The first thing I always say to people is start with what you know.”
If you have a specific goal for your donation, you should seek organizations which help serve that purpose. Donations to food banks will help put food on the table for families who need it, while donations to the SPCA will help the animals and pets saved from the storms. Working with charities or fundraisers you are already familiar with, perhaps a church or school drive, is also a smart way to make your donation count, according to Cotton Nelson.
Donating to a non-profit also comes with the added benefit of transparency.
“501(c)(3) organizations have their Form 990 financials posted, so if you are interested in doing a little more due diligence, you can see how they are spending their money," Cotton Nelson says.
Several websites allow you to search for a non-profit and access documents detailing financial information and spending. Guidestar.org is one such site that also has a ranking system for non-profits based on transparency.
Other non-profit data sites:
The surest way to get donations into the intended hands is to give to that person or organization directly. Although Cotton Nelson said sometimes it does make since to donate to intermediaries, you should be mindful of how many handoffs your donations might make.
“The fewer handoffs your donation makes, the quicker it gets to where you want it," she says.
Donating to a restaurant or grocery store adds an extra handoff and also eliminates your access to transparency, however, Cotton Nelson said those donation drives still serve a valuable purpose because they present opportunity to donate for people who may not otherwise.
“One of the great things about restaurants raising money is it may give an opportunity to people who only have a few dollars to contribute," she says.
KNOW THE ORGANIZATION
There are several noble groups and causes to which you can donate. However, they will serve a lot of different purposes. The American Red Cross and Salvation Army help provide crisis relief in the immediate aftermath of a disaster event.
But other organizations are more geared towards the intermediate or long-term recovery of a community.
Needs are many after a disaster, and Cotton Nelson says donors should be familiar with the purpose of each fund.
“The best way to choose a doctor is to find someone else who has used them," she says. "Same thing with giving them money. You want to know who is behind the effort."