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Better Business Bureau: Vet charities before donating after natural disasters

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On Monday, I had a day full of natural disasters. On vacation in Florida, I was on the run from Hurricane Dorian. With airports closures and mandatory evacuations, we were lucky to get out on one of the few uncancelled flights. As we flew home to Montana, I looked out my window and noticed an ominous, growing gray cloud. The mountainside below the cloud glowed orange for acres upon acres, a fire devouring a patch of Montana forest. Red flag warnings are in effect throughout the state as record high temperatures hit the dried out state.

The natural disasters from sea to shining sea serve as a reminder that we need to help our neighbors, but we need to be smart about it. If you’re considering giving to help storm or fire victims this season, remember that your Better Business Bureau Northwest + Pacific does the hard work of vetting charities through our Wise Giving Alliance. You can find out which charities to trust at

It’s important in the wake of a natural disaster like Hurricane Dorian to give to an experienced disaster relief organization. It’s also important to ensure you know what your donation will fund. Ask questions. Make sure you feel comfortable the charity and how they will spend your money.

“As Dorian is predicted to be a devastating storm, most of us will be motivated to provide immediate help,” notes Art Taylor, president and CEO of BBB’s “Donations (given) to experienced disaster relief efforts are the best option to achieve that goal.”

Additionally, Taylor says, “A recent public survey we distributed earlier this year shows that only 24% of individuals say charity disaster relief appeals are very clear. So, we also encourage charities to make sure their relief solicitations explain the nature of their disaster assistance activities.”

Crowdfunding efforts after a disaster can also be problematic.

BBB has seen crowdfunding posts from individuals claiming to raise funds to deliver and distribute water, food, flashlights, etc. to impacted areas. Such efforts (if they are indeed real) may risk lives, complicate professional efforts and potentially divert donations that could be directed in more helpful ways.

Donors should watch out for newly created organizations that are either inexperienced addressing disasters or may try to deceive donors at a vulnerable time.

BBB also expects reports of price-gougers and “storm chasers” looking to make a quick buck off preparation and clean-up efforts. For more information about these insidious, illegal activities, visit Consumers can report suspected scams to BBB Scam Tracker ( or the office of the Attorney General.

BBB’s 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 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 skilled operations in the affected areas, it may be difficult to provide assistance quickly and effectively. See if the charity’s website or appeal clearly describes what the charity can do to address immediate relief needs as well as longer-term recovery needs.
  • Find out if the charity is providing direct aid or is 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 give directly to charities that have a presence in the region. Appeals for disaster-related donations should clearly state how contributions will be used.
  • Be cautious about 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 hand out such aid properly. Donated goods may impose extra costs on a charity to cover storage and distribution, and also may not meet the most urgent needs.
  • Understand crowdfunding. While there are resources like to help vet charities, it is difficult to vet individuals. If you decide to contribute to an individual via crowdfunding, it is safest to give to people you personally know. Also, remember that gifts to help a specific individual generally are not deductible as charitable donations for federal income tax purposes. Remember to check the terms and conditions of the crowdfunding platform to learn how your donation might be affected.

For additional disaster giving tips visit and remember, the emergency phase of a disaster is just the beginning. Full recovery from a disaster will be a long-term effort that can take many months or years to accomplish, depending on the extent of the damage. Take your time choosing the right charity to help at the right time.


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