“Where should I donate to help hurricane victims?”

Do Your Research Before Giving

Charity Navigator lists reputable charities, some of which are posted below, that are providing assistance to communities affected by hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.

However, Charity Navigator can’t guarantee these organizations will spend 100 percent of your donation on hurricane relief, so if this is important to you, check with the charity before making a donation.

National Charities Include:

Brother’s Brother Foundation

Feeding America

Global Giving

Local Charities Include:

Hurricane Harvey

Coastal Bend Food Bank

Houston Food Bank

Houston Humane Society

Hurricane Irma

Florida Disaster Fund

Feeding Northeast Florida

Jacksonville Humane Society

The Fund for the Virgin Islands

Hurricane Maria

Unidos (relief fund for victims in Puerto Rico)

Unidos por Puerto Rico (benefits businesses affected by the hurricane)

Humane Society of Puerto Rico

In the aftermath of hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, many people are asking this question, and there are many choices. In addition to large established organizations like the Red Cross and the Salvation Army, smaller state and local nonprofits and even some athletes and celebrities are raising funds. For example, J.J. Watt, the star of the Houston Texans, started a fundraising page that has raised more than $37 million for victims of Hurricane Harvey.

Unfortunately, the days immediately after a natural disaster are also a prime time for fraudulent charities to surface. Disaster fraud is a serious problem. In the years following Hurricane Katrina, federal prosecutors charged over 1,300 disaster fraud cases, many of which were charity scams.

If you are looking for a way to give, it’s important to do some research first. Watchdog groups like Charity Navigator, Charity Watch and others provide information on many nonprofits, including how much of your donation goes to a cause and how much goes to general expenses.

If the charity you are interested in isn’t listed, try contacting them directly and asking for details about specific actions they are taking in this particular situation. You can also search for the organization online.

Here are some additional tips from the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice that can help ensure your donation goes to a reputable organization:

  • Donate to charities you know and trust with a proven track record for dealing with disasters.
  • Be alert for charities that seem to have sprung up overnight in connection with current events. Check out the charity through the Better Business Bureau’s BBB Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator, Charity Watch or GuideStar.
  • Designate the disaster so you can ensure your funds are going to disaster relief rather than a general fund.
  • Don’t assume that charity messages posted on social media are legitimate. Research the organization yourself.
  • When texting to donate, confirm the number with the source before you donate. The charge will show up on your mobile phone bill, but donations are not immediate.
  • Never pay with cash. Use a credit card or write a check directly to the organization (never write a check to an individual). This provides you with some protection and a record for tax purposes.
  • Never click on links or open attachments in emails unless you know who sent it. You could unknowingly install malware on your computer.

What Else Can You Do?

If you think you have been contacted by or are a victim of a fraudulent charity, contact the National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) hotline at 866-720-5721 or by email at disaster@leo.gov. The NCDF investigates and prosecutes scam charities. Alerting them may help get your donation returned and protect others by helping to shut down the fraudulent outfit.

Whether it’s a natural disaster or an ongoing cause that you support, it’s important to keep these guidelines in mind. When you do your homework before making a donation, you can be better assured that both you and the beneficiary will get the most bang from your buck.

[Janet Lubman Rathner]