September 17, 2008 – Arlington, VA – Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance is encouraging donors to give, but advising them to give responsibly to Hurricane Ike relief efforts by doing pre-donation research to ensure that their gifts are put to best use by legitimate organizations that are engaged and equipped to support relief and recovery efforts now underway.
Twenty-nine counties in Texas and Louisiana have been declared disaster areas and according to estimates, Ike caused more than 10 billion in damage and left more than 2.4 million Texans without power. Local and national charities and relief organizations are now soliciting donations to help victims of the disaster, but note that it is proving to be very challenging to mount a response to Ike while they are still feeding and sheltering victims of Hurricane Gustav.
“We’re seeing reports from charities indicating that thus far gift-giving for hurricane season is unusually low, and due to this circumstance, some charities are considering borrowing money to support hurricane-response efforts,” said Art Taylor, president and CEO of the BBB Wise Giving Alliance. “Aid workers are understandably concerned about the slow pace of donations, and that makes it that much more important that prospective donors do their research and give to legitimate organizations with the best chance of doing the most good for those in need.”
Some charities have noted that to date, individuals giving to support relief efforts for hurricanes Gustav and Ike only number in the hundreds or thousands, whereas individual gifts following Hurricane Katrina were well into the hundreds of thousands.
Unfortunately, in addition to the nominal pace of donations for this hurricane season’s victims, BBB Wise Giving Alliance also notes that if past experience is any indicator, not all solicitations in the wake of natural disasters will be legitimate. Potential donors can expect unsolicited e-mails and phone calls from scammers, some of whom may use names very similar to those of real organizations to confuse donors. Scammers often make emotional pleas and press for immediate donation decisions, with both tactics aimed at taking advantage of donors’ generosity.
“Donors shouldn’t assume that all solicitations are legitimate and they should research organizations before giving because, if they don’t, they run the risk of having their good intentions have no impact whatsoever on the lives of hurricane victims,” added Taylor.
BBB Wise Giving Alliance offers the following information to help donors make informed charitable giving decisions.
Rely on expert opinion when it comes to evaluating a charity.
Be cautious when relying on third-party recommendations such as bloggers or other Web sites, as they might not have fully researched relief organizations. Donors can go to www.bbb.org/charity to research charities and relief organizations to verify they are accredited by BBB and meet the 20 Standards for Charity Accountability.
Be wary of claims that 100 percent of donations will assist relief victims.
Despite what an organization might claim, charities have fund raising and administrative costs. Even a credit card donation will involve, at a minimum, a processing fee. If a charity claims 100 percent of collected funds will go toward assisting Gustav or Ike victims, donors should be skeptical. The truth is that the organization is still probably incurring fund raising and administrative expenses. They may use some of their other funds to pay this, but the expenses will still be incurred.
Be cautious when giving online.
Be cautious about online giving, especially in response to spam messages and e-mails that claim to link to a relief organization. In response to the tsunami disaster, there were concerns raised about many Web sites and new organizations that were created overnight allegedly to help victims.
Find out if the charity has an on-the-ground presence in the impacted areas.
Unless the charity already has staff in the effected areas, it may be difficult to get new aid workers to quickly provide assistance. See if the charity’s Web site clearly describes what they can do to address immediate needs.
Find out if the charity is providing direct aid or raising money for other groups.
Some charities may be raising money to pass along to relief organizations. If so, donors may want to consider “avoiding the middleman” and giving directly to charities that have a presence in the region. Or, at a minimum, check out the ultimate recipients of these donations to ensure the organizations are equipped to effectively provide aid.
Gifts of clothing, food or other in-kind donations.
In-kind drives for food and clothing—while well intentioned— may not be the quickest way to help those in need unless the organization has the staff and infrastructure to be able to properly distribute such aid. Ask the charity about their transportation and distribution plans. Be wary of those who are not experienced in disaster relief assistance.
BBB is an unbiased non-profit organization that sets and upholds high standards for fair and honest business behavior. Businesses that earn BBB accreditation contractually agree and adhere to the organization’s high standards of ethical business behavior. BBB provides objective advice, free business BBB Reliability ReportsTM and charity BBB Wise Giving ReportsTM, and educational information on topics affecting marketplace trust. To further promote trust, BBB also offers complaint and dispute resolution support for consumers and businesses when there is difference in viewpoints. The first BBB was founded in 1912. Today, 125 BBBs serve communities across the U.S. and Canada, evaluating and monitoring nearly 4 million local and national businesses and charities.
About BBB Wise Giving Alliance
The BBB Wise Giving Alliance produces reports on nationally soliciting charitable organizations. The BBB Wise Giving Alliance does not rank charities but rather seeks to assist donors in making informed judgments by providing objective evaluations of national charities based on 20 rigorous standards. The outcomes of the evaluations – or BBB Wise Giving ReportsTM – are available online at www.bbb.org/charity. The BBB Wise Giving Alliance is an affiliate of the Council of Better Business Bureaus.