In the wake of any disaster, many reach for their checkbooks and donate money to aid and rescue organizations. The Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance cautions, however, that the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is unlike previous disasters and offers specific advice to potential donors and volunteers.
“Businesses, communities and wildlife across several states have been seriously impacted by the spill and the need for assistance is great. However, the constraints in the cleanup effort limit what charities can do with your money or how you can volunteer,” said Dale Mingilton, President and CEO of the BBB Serving Denver/Boulder.
The BBB Wise Giving Alliance recommends that donors and volunteers consider the following:
- Beware of well-intentioned but inexperienced organizations – New nonprofits and relief organizations spring up following any major disaster. While these groups might have the best of intentions, new charities responding to a crisis may lack the resources, experience and management needed to be effective. Ideally, look for established organizations with environmental expertise or experience aiding Gulf communities.
- Understand where your money is going - Find out how the organization plans to spend funds for Gulf relief, ecosystem recovery and related activities. Among the activities that charities are promoting, in addition to shoreline rescue and protection, are needs assessment, litigation, economic relief, advocacy for new governmental energy policies and research into long-term solutions to minimize effects of future disasters. Ask if the organization offers to restrict your donation for use in its Gulf-related activities or intends to use it for general support for all of its programs.
- Rely on expert opinion when it comes to evaluating a charity - Be cautious when relying on third-party recommendations posted on blogs or web sites, as the authors might not have fully researched the organizations they list. The public can go to www.bbb.org/charity to research charities to verify that they are accredited by the BBB and meet the BBB’s 20 Standards for Charity Accountability.
- Find out if the charity is doing Gulf-related work or raising funds for other Gulf relief organizations - If a charity is raising money for other groups, you may want to consider “avoiding the middleman” and giving directly to those performing the work. Research ultimate recipients of the “middleman’s” donations to ensure that these organizations are equipped to do the job you want to support and are aware of the individual or organization soliciting on its behalf.
- Volunteering for Gulf clean-up may require special skills or training - Learn what qualifications are necessary before setting off for the site. If you’re looking to get your hands dirty, you’re out of luck unless you’re certified to handle hazardous materials or have received training to care for injured wildlife. In fact, Gulf residents are being told not to handle any tar balls that wash up on the beach or animals that might be affected by the spill. Other volunteer opportunities may include shoreline monitoring, fund raising, office work, help in food programs for families in need and providing transportation. Numerous charities with volunteer programs ask that you register with them so that they can assess your skills and place you appropriately when openings arise.
- There will be many opportunities to give, so keep checking – The Gulf region will be suffering from the effects of the oil spill for years to come and, as the situation unfolds, there will be more opportunities for donors to step in and help in the future. If you can’t find a cause you can get behind right now, plan to revisit the possibility of making a donation or volunteering in the months to come.
The BBB has compiled a list of national charities providing assistance to the Gulf Coast oil spill cleanup. This list only includes charities that meet the BBB Wise Giving Alliance’s Standards for Charity Accountability. Click on each of the names to access a BBB charity report on the organization.
American Bird Conservancy
Defenders of Wildlife
Environmental Defense Fund
Friends of the Earth
International Fund for Animal Welfare
National Audubon Society
National Wildlife Federation
Natural Resources Defense Council