Tyler, TX, May 21, 2013 - The news of yesterday's F4 tornado that swept through the town of Moore, Oklahoma are gut-wrenching. Two schools filled with teachers and children, entire neighborhoods and businesses will never be the same.
"When tragedy strikes, everyone wants to help." said Mechele Agbayani Mills, President and CEO of BBB Serving Central East Texas. “As we reach out, please keep in mind that organizations and web sites allegedly created to help victims and relief efforts will spring up overnight, so it’s very important to do your research to make sure your efforts go where you intend and that they get there quickly.”
BBB offers the following advice to guide those want to help:
Be cautious when giving online or via text.
Be careful with spontaneous donations, especially in response to spam messages and emails that claim to link to a relief organization. If you want to give to a charity involved in relief efforts, go directly to the charity's website.
To verify tax-exempt status and avoid "pop-up charities," check with the IRS at www.irs.gov/app/eos. If you're considering a local charity, most states regulate charities and charitable solicitations. You should check to make sure an organization is registered and meets the state's guidelines at The National Association of State Charity Officials.
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 may not have fully researched the relief organizations they list. The public can go to www.give.org to research charities and relief organizations and verify that they are accredited by the BBB and meet the 20 Standards for Charity Accountability.
Watch fees that erode money meant for the charity.
Despite claims, 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 be assisting hurricane victims, the truth is that the organization is still probably incurring fund raising and administrative expenses. It may use some of its other funds to pay these costs, but the expenses will still be incurred.
To address cost concerns, in 2007, veterans of the wireless industry launched BBB Mobile Giving Foundation. MGF is a 501 (c) (3) not-for-profit registered in all 50 states to manage wireless carrier participation; ensure compliance with all laws and regulations concerning charitable giving; certify the participation of Non-Profit Organizations and their campaigns; manage message delivery and billing across all carriers.
When donors respond to a mobile call to give through a MGF campaign 100% of each donation is remitted directly from the wireless operators to the MGF, which in turns gives 100% to the recipient charity. There are administrative costs, but MGF invoices short-codes, reporting and messaging charges directly to the nonprofit on a post-donation basis. Donors must be age 18+ and all donations must be authorized by the mobile account holder (e.g. parent). For more information visit www.mobilegiving.org.
Find out 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.
Understand gifts of clothing, food, etc., may not always be appropriate.
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.