This Thanksgiving – Give Thanks, by Giving

typhoon haiyanFor most families, Thanksgiving is a time to reflect on everything you’ve been given, and to be grateful for all that you have. The past few weeks have brought much devastation and despair to millions of people around the world. Many will not have the simple things that we often take for granted – a roof over their head, food on their table and clothing on their back. This year, why not take the time to give thanks for all that’s good in your own life – and also give to others who may not be so fortunate.

Typhoon Haiyan, considered the most powerful storm to ever make landfall battered the Philippines with sustained winds close to 200 mph. The current death toll is feared to be over 10,000. The storm has caused mudslides, 30 feet high storm surges, as well as flash flooding. According to Philippine authorities, more than 12 million people are at risk due to the storm’s powerful impact.

midwest tornadoesThis past Sunday, November 17, 2013, a wave of strong storms brought damaging winds and tornadoes to the Midwest and beyond. States impacted by the storms include: Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and New York. As a result of the harsh storms, hundreds of thousands of people have been left without power and hundreds of homes and businesses have been destroyed. The worst damage was in Illinois where several people were killed.

The news reports and images from Typhoon Haiyan and the Midwest tornadoes are heart-wrenching. Reports of catastrophic human and natural disasters seem to hit every year, and move us to donate clothes, food or money. But before you give, make sure your generosity ends up with an organization that will ensure your gifts are well-used.  Charity Navigator, an independent nonprofit corporation that evaluates charities in the U.S., offers these “Crisis Giving Tips” to ensure your donations do the most good.

  • Designate Your Investment – Worried that your donation will go towards the charity’s general operating fund or saved for a future crisis? This is a very understandable concern. By designating your gift, you’ll ensure that your donation will be used as you intended. Not all charity groups offer a way to designate their gift and promise that 100% of funds collected will be used specifically for this disaster. If the charity has clearly indicated that they are committed to using restricted funds only for relief and recovery efforts related to this disaster, Charity Navigator lists them on their site.
  • Give To An Established Charity – Don’t let an unscrupulous charity take advantage of your goodwill. Find a charity with a proven track record of success with dealing with this type of major natural disaster and/or that has a history of working in the specific country (U.S., Philippines, etc.) Avoid fly-by-night charities created specifically to deal with these disasters (Typhoon Haiyan, tornadoes, etc.) Even well-meaning new organizations will not have the infrastructure and knowledge of the region to efficiently maximize your gift. If you do feel compelled to give to a new charity, be sure to get proof that the group is in fact a registered public charity with 501 (c) (3) status.
  • Consider The Nature Of The Charity’s Work – Not every charity responds to a disaster in the same way. Some provide medical assistance, some shelter, some food and water. Others will be more focused on either short term or long term rebuilding efforts. And some will just fundraise for other nonprofits. Think about what it is you want your philanthropic investment to accomplish and then take the time to find the charities doing that work. Charity Navigator links to each charity’s website so that you can quickly learn more about their plans to help.
  • Be Inspired By Social Media, But Still Do Your Homework – Social networking tools like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and blogs are delivering heart-wrenching images and information about this disaster to our computers and phones. These often include pleas to donate. While these applications can be a powerful tool to inspire your desire to help, you should not blindly give via these vehicles. You must take the time to investigate the groups behind such pleas for help to ensure that it comes from a legitimate nonprofit.
  • Be Careful Of Email Solicitations – Be leery of people who contact you online claiming to be a victim. Unless you personally know someone in the impacted area, anyone alleging to be in this position is most likely part of a scam. Obviously, people affected by a large scale disaster like Typhoon Haiyan or the Midwest tornadoes are in no position to contact you directly for assistance. Also, be sure to delete unsolicited emails with attachments and never respond to these messages. Do not open any attachments to these emails even if they claim to contain pictures from the disaster – these are more than likely harmful viruses.
  • Seek Out The Charity’s Authorized Website – Criminals are likely to set up bogus sites to steal the identity and money of generous and unsuspecting individuals. This was prevalent after Hurricane Katrina when the FBI reported that 4,000 sites were created to do just that. So, if you plan to give online, be sure to find the charity’s legitimate site. You can safely give on Charity Navigator’s site via our partnership with Network for Good. Alternatively, Charity Navigator links to each charity’s authorized site so you can give there if you prefer.
  • Think Before You Text – As long as you do your homework – meaning that you’ve vetted the charity and made sure that you are using the proper texting instructions- then texting can be a great way to give. Remember there may be additional costs to you to make such a gift. And it can take as much as 90 days for the charity to receive the funds.
  • Do Not Send Supplies – Knowing that people are desperately in need of basic supplies like food, water and shelter, it is hard not to want to pack up and send a box of supplies. But this type of philanthropy is simply not practical or efficient. Even if mail could get to these ravaged areas, no one is set up to receive these goods, much less organize and distribute them to the victims. Furthermore, charities are often able to partner with companies to acquire large amounts of in-kind donations such as bottled water and new clothing. Instead of boxing up and sending your old clothing, have a garage sale and turn your used goods into cash and donate that to a worthy charity.
  • Avoid Telemarketers – Be wary of fundraisers who pressure you to make a contribution over the phone. Never divulge your credit card information to someone soliciting you via the phone. Instead, hang up, do your due diligence and give to a vetted charity directly.
  • Don’t Expect Immediate Results, But Do Keep Tabs On Your Donation – It takes time for charities to mobilize, to assess the problems that need to be addressed and to develop effective solutions. Donors need to be patient so charities will not feel pressured to plunge in and offer ineffective aid, simply to placate impatient donors. That doesn’t mean donors shouldn’t hold the charities accountable for delivering on their promises! Be sure to follow up with the charity in a few months to find out (a) how your donation was put to use and (b) if the organization needs additional support to complete the recovery effort.