DENVER, COLORADO—Hurricane Irma has already devastated the Caribbean and is expected to reach parts of Florida by early Saturday. Officials in Florida and Georgia have issued mandatory evacuation orders for some areas in anticipation of what has been described as the most enduring superstorm on record. All of this occurs only two weeks after Hurricane Harvey became the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history, incurring an estimated $190 billion in damage to Southeastern Texas and other areas of the Gulf Coast. Meanwhile, Hurricane Jose has strengthened to a category 4 storm as it sits east of the Leeward Islands.
So far, Coloradoans have risen to the occasion and contributed to rescue, relief, and recovery efforts. Now and through the end of September, Denver bars and restaurants are continuing to host events to raise money for hurricane relief, and members of Colorado’s FEMA Task Force One traveled directly from Texas to the Southeastern US in preparation for Hurricane Irma.
Unfortunately, scammers and disreputable charities often take advantage of people’s eagerness to help in times of crisis. For this reason, it is important to stay informed and ensure that your donations and efforts make the impact you intend them to make.
BBB Wise Giving Alliance suggests that donors keep the following tips in mind to help avoid questionable appeals for support:
- Verify the trustworthiness of soliciting relief organizations by visiting Give.org to access free reports that specify if the charity meets the 20 BBB Standards for Charity Accountability.
- See if the charity has an on-the-ground presence in the impacted areas. Unless the charity already has staff in the affected areas, it may be difficult to bring in new aid workers to provide assistance quickly. See if the charity’s website clearly describes what the charity 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, you may want to consider “avoiding the middleman” and giving directly to those that have a presence in the region. Or, at a minimum, check out the ultimate recipients of these donations to see whether they are equipped to provide aid effectively.
- Be cautious about gifts of clothing, food or other in-kind donations. In-kind drives for food and clothing, while well intentioned, may not necessarily be the quickest way to help those in need – unless the organization has the staff and infrastructure to distribute such aid properly. Ask the charity about its transportation and distribution plans. Be wary of those who are not experienced in disaster relief assistance.
- Understand crowdfunding. Keep in mind that some crowdfunding sites do very little vetting of individuals who decide to post for assistance after a disaster, and it is often difficult for donors to verify the trustworthiness of crowdfunding requests for support. If you decide to contribute via crowdfunding, it is probably best to give to people who you personally know that have posted requests for assistance. For more Give.org tips on crowdfunding, check out this Wise Giving Wednesday post.
- Phases of disaster relief. Remember that every disaster has several phases – rescue, emergency relief, and recovery. Each part relies on public support and continuing funding for success. The need for donations doesn’t stop when the headlines do.
- Recovery time line. For many communities, recovery will be a long-term activity that can take many months or years to accomplish, depending on the extent of the damage. Those truly concerned about helping communities bounce back will have many opportunities to help.
- Disaster planning. Although it may seem obvious, no one wants to experience a repeat performance of a disaster. Areas that work toward recovery will probably also need to develop plans to better respond to a similar storm in the future. Even those that already had measures in place can find ways to improve based on experience.
For Florida residents, BBB offers one-stop Hurricane Guides for each of the state’s regions to help consumers, businesses, and Nonprofits prepare for hurricane season.