When devastating events occur, such as the recent earthquake and tsunami that severely damaged large portions of Japan, charities tend to step up their solicitations for funding. It makes sense. When tragedy strikes, our awareness and our empathy level tend to rise and we’re in more of a mood to give generously to worthwhile causes. It is good to provide help to people in need, but it is also prudent to make certain you are giving to the most effective organizations that can really make a difference with your money.
Just as you may be careful about how you spend money on consumer goods, food items and leisure time activities, you should approach charitable giving in the same way. Here are some tips to keep in mind as you consider your charitable giving options:
• Check out the charity first, if you can – as despicable as it sounds, when disasters such as an earthquake or flood occur, scam organizations with little or no charitable purpose have been known to spring up trying to collect money from unsuspecting donors. To avoid falling prey to these swindlers, give to organizations that you know and trust or that you can investigate before giving. It is easy to identify the largest organizations, but there are many others not as well-known that deserve our help. To be sure you are doing the right thing, verify the legitimacy and effectiveness of charities through websites such as Charity Navigator (www.charitynavigator.org) and the Better Business Bureau (www.bbb.org/charity).
• Don’t give out personal information to phone or email solicitors – phone solicitors will ask you to provide credit card information and sometimes even bank account information. This should be avoided. If you are convinced you want to make a donation to that specific charity, ask for a website that will allow you to do so online through a secure server. Also, do not send credit card or bank account information via email if you receive an email solicitation. The reason for the caution with both phone and email solicitations is that scammers do have the ability to impersonate a legitimate organization as a way to steal personal information. This is most prevalent in the wake of a disaster. According to the FBI, 4,000 bogus charitable sites were identified in the wake of the earthquake in Haiti in 2010.
• Realize that money is the most valuable gift – what organizations need more than anything else is cash to help them do their work. In some situations, individuals donate clothing or other items, but this can be cumbersome for the organization to manage and is not always suited to the purposes they are trying to achieve. Except when they specify differently, organizations prefer to receive money as it helps them manage their efforts most effectively.
• Think about whether you want to designate a purpose for your cash – in the wake of certain tragedies, many donors are willing to give money to a charity if they know the dollars will be used specifically to assist in recovery efforts related to that event. This is fine, but if you believe in the broad work done by the organization, they may prefer that the money not be limited to a specific purpose in order to help them better utilize their resources for their overall efforts.
Think globally and locally
Our giving instincts naturally rise with well-publicized events like 9/11, hurricanes and earthquakes. But helpful causes exist throughout the year. Be careful not to put all of your eggs in the basket of only the most visible charities in the wake of major crises. Try to share a portion of your own good fortune with others in need throughout the year.
Start by looking in your own community for organizations that are making a difference. Talk to friends and colleagues for recommendations. On a global scale, consider causes that appeal to you and use the websites listed above (Charity Navigator, Better Business Bureau) to determine their legitimacy and effectiveness.
You want any dollars you give to make as much of a difference as possible. Being diligent about checking out charities in advance will make you feel better, and probably boost your desire to give more in the future.