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Helping in Times of Need – Can You Trust Charities?

helping in times of need

With Hurricane Nate making landfall, the US had to deal with its third hurricane of the 2017 season. Hurricane Harvey just devastated the fourth largest city in the United States in August. September brought Irma and a trail destruction in her path. In recent months, Americans have battled hurricanes and wildfires, so massive homes are being engulfed. With so many natural disasters, Americans are doing precisely what they are known for doing—helping in times of need.

Because we are such a philanthropic country, it is not uncommon for many organizations to take the initiative and start collecting donations. Whether the contributions are money or other items, the American people are generous and rise to the call. With that said, it’s also not uncommon for many to end up being taken advantage of in this time of need as well.

Unfortunately, these disasters not only showcase the good but evil as well with many fraudulent charities popping up. They prey on the benevolence and emotions of those that actually want to sacrifice for the greater good.

So if you are like me and want to share your blessings so that others might be blessed, what can you do to prevent being scammed at times like these? Here is a list of a few ways to make sure your donation is doing what you intended it to do.

Pick a charity that has name recognition prior to the disaster.

I personally prefer giving to the American Red Cross. Unfortunately, right now the Red Cross seems to be getting a pretty bad rap. As a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™, I saw the good the Red Cross could do when the wildfires broke out in the Smoky Mountains of East Tennessee. I also saw the backlash from anything anyone thought was a misstep firsthand.

Once such instance was a rant on Facebook about donated water. Someone transported the bottles across the state and dropped them off in an area not directly affected by that particular tragedy at all. The problem is, the individual that was ranting likely had no idea about the logistics of dealing with trauma or disaster. Yet they claimed to know the need better than those that are pretty much knee-deep in every calamity American’s face. Just because you think you know how things should be handled, doesn’t mean you really know how things should be handled.

For me, there is no other organization better equipped to respond in times of need instantly. They have the manpower readily accessible to handle tragedies. Ahead of Hurricane Irma, the Red Cross prepared to so they were ready to respond instantly. So think about that. They had beds for them to sleep, food ready to serve, water for drinking and bathing purposes ready to go—and all before Irma ever made landfall. They even set up in various areas since no one could predict the exact path of the deadly storm. Not only were they ready well ahead of time, but once the storm hit the American Red Cross mobilized to get medicine, food, and water to the areas that needed it most.

So while they may be in the middle of a publicity crises and getting a bad rap, to me they embody the American spirit and are more equipped than any other charity out there to handle major disasters. Honestly, the fees and administrative costs of the American Red Cross really are not that much out of proportion to that of local charities.

I’m not knocking other charities. If someone wants to help, they should help, but do so using a trustworthy charity that is well-established.

Give through a religious organization.

The bedrock of many religious organizations is benevolence. Churches, synagogue, temples, etc., are often some of the first to roll up their sleeves and join the relief efforts. So if you want to give this will help you know where you are giving.

I personally know of many churches going in and helping other churches in the affected areas. Your church or religious organization may do this nationally. Sometimes it is a denominational effort, other times it is just a group from within the church. They go down with vans full of goods and materials and give.

Our church went in and helped a church of like-faith in the Houston area. We sent individuals down to the devastated church with tarps and skills and various supplies that are needed based on that church’s input. They went in to spend a week working with that organization. As they worked with the church in Houston, that freed up the staff to turn around and divvy up the resources to members in need.

Now, this obviously goes beyond just giving money. Religious organizations offer the opportunity to get in the trenches. It is a very hands-on approach to helping those directly affected by the storm. So if you’re not comfortable giving to a large charity, try going this route. This type of giving is undoubtedly a way to get more intimately involved.

If your religious organization doesn’t have an outreach, then perhaps you should start one. Look at contacting a sister church, temple, synagogue or whatever to see how they can benefit from your time or money.

WARNING: When you trust the charity with your money—TRUST THE CHARITY!

If you’re going to give, then give, and trust the charity. If you’re using a reputable charity, expect they know what needs to be done with the money. Allow them to have discretional use of the funds. In the past, people have given money to a charity and wanted to dictate how it is used. They want to make sure their money is going to that particular event. However, you need to understand that sometimes more cash than is necessary flows in. When that happens, those funds are often kept in trusts; they are held in perpetuity. Then when the next disaster strikes, those funds cannot be used for anything other than what they were originally earmarked.

For example, let’s say the city of Houston received an overabundance of money to help the city’s recovery efforts. The dust settles.  All the insurances claims filed are paid. Everyone is back on their feet to the best of their ability. Now, assume $10 is left in a charity’s Houston disaster account. Thanks to the rules and regulations governing 501c3’s, the non-profit organization is out of luck. They can’t touch a dime of that money. So when the next disaster comes, their hands are completely tied when it comes utilizing to those funds.

So when you earmark and designate funds you give to a charity, trust that they will use it the right way. Far too many endowments are unusable because of earmarking. If you want to help today, you’ll want to help with tomorrow’s calamity as well. Know that your money helps those in need, the moment they need it most.

These events leave not only those in the destruction areas brokenhearted but those of us watching helplessly as well. Disaster tugs on our purse strings and for good reason. Tragedy often brings out the best in humanity. Just make sure you are giving in a way that the dollars benefit those whose lives are upside down.

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