Tips for Donating Post-Sandy

As most of you know from my other blog posts, I grew up in Connecticut.  My family is out there, and many of my lifelong friends still live somewhere in the northeast.  I’m happy to say that my loved ones escaped harm from Sandy.  By all accounts, everyone is warm and dry at home, and in most cases, they have power.  Not everyone in the region is that lucky – this storm was devastating, and flooding is widespread.  Even when the tides recede, residents will have to contend with cleaning, rebuilding, and dealing with a lack of available resources.   As we have seen with prior disasters, we have a tendency to donate with our hearts and without question, and unfortunately less legitimate organizations bank on that sentiment.  Here are a few quick tips to make sure your time and money is being used effectively in this crisis:
1)      Visit Charity Navigator (www.charitynavigator.org) to see if the charity in question is legit and if they are well-rated.
Charity Navigator is a great site committed to what they call “intelligent giving.”  They provide a multitude of resources to educate donors on a charity’s financial health, accountability and transparency.  In addition to looking up charities, be sure to check out their Tips for Donors page.

2)      If you are concerned that a charity’s values conflict with your own, do your research.
Let’s be honest here – there are some charities that do good work, but they may involve themselves in political agendas that are polar opposite of the values you hold.  If this is not a concern to you, by all means, donate; but if there is something you feel very strongly about – perhaps you have a personal policy to donate to apolitical charities – be sure to do your research.

3)      Cash is better than goods.
Currently, many charities such as the American Red Cross are asking that people donate cash rather than physical goods.  While it may feel good to physically hand over a palate of water or clothing, the cost to sort, transport and distribute such things is typically high and extremely inefficient.

4)      Never give in to “impulse” donations – always get something in writing before you donate.
Another thing you see often in post-disaster fundraising are telephone outreach campaigns, where people solicit money from you over the phone, pressuring you to donate on the spot.  In some cases, people may even go door-to-door.  While it is tempting to agree to donate on the spot, it is always better to ask for something in writing detailing what the charity is and where the money goes to.  Find out the organization’s name, and look them up on Charity Navigator or your local Better Business Bureau web site.  A common solicitation scam in Arizona is where someone selling magazines goes to your door and tells you that the funds are going to a charity. Here is my personal rule with these impulse solicitations: if they really want you to donate money for a cause, they won’t turn down your offer to send in money or refuse to give you access to documentation.

5)      Finally, Here are three charities that have high ratings with charity navigator, have a long and proven track record, and/or perform a unique and needed service:

The American Red Cross: As a disclosure, I volunteered for the Red Cross when I was in high school and received training in mass care for disasters.  While there have been occasional controversies with the ARC over the years, in my opinion, no one has more experience or a better system for shelters and temporary housing than the Red Cross. Their volunteers work hard around the clock to ensure that families have a safe place to stay when disaster strikes.  With all the destruction to property that has occurred from this storm, the Red Cross will need your help in ensuring they have enough funds to make sure all displaced families are cared for.

The Humane Society:  Please note that Red Cross shelters do not accept animals.  To ensure that pets, horses, and other animals are safe during a disaster, donate to the Humane Society so they have the funds to do so.

Direct Relief International:  One of the top-rated charities on Charity Navigator, Direct Relief International provides medical assistance when disaster strikes.  They ensure supplies, medicine and medical equipment is provided to those in need, working closely with local health care organizations.