With Hurricane Florence bearing down on the southeast coast of the United States, BBB Wise Giving Alliance and Better Business Bureau advise donors that experienced disaster relief organizations offer the best possibility of providing emergency help for victims after a natural disaster.
NBC News reported last week that the Make It Right Foundation, a charity formed by actor Brad Pitt to help New Orleans residents return home after Hurricane Katrina, could be doing more harm than good. The organization’s mission was to build 150 affordable homes in the area hit hardest by the storm, the Lower 9th Ward.
As of 2016, Make It Right reported spending $26.8 million and building 109 homes, but residents told NBC News that many of the homes are now rotting and dangerous. Complaints allege collapsing structures, electrical fires, gas leaks and mold. Residents suggest the houses were built too fast, with poor quality materials, and that the designs didn’t consider the rainy and humid climate of New Orleans.
As problems worsened, residents say their calls went unreturned. Since 2015, Make It Right reportedly hasn’t built a home, filed a tax form or updated their website. Now residents are suing Brad Pitt and Make It Right, accusing the organization of breach of contract and fraud for selling them “defectively and improperly constructed” homes.
“While we all want to help those in harm’s way as soon as we can, donors should watch out for newly created organizations that emerge that are either inexperienced in addressing disasters or may be seeking to deceive donors at a vulnerable time” says Art Taylor, president and CEO of BBB Wise Giving Alliance.
BBB Wise Giving Alliance suggests that donors keep the following tips in mind to help avoid questionable appeals for support:
- Be cautious when giving online.
Be cautious about online giving, 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.
- Rely on expert opinion when it comes to evaluating a charity.
Be cautious when relying on third-party recommendations such as bloggers or other websites, as they may not have fully researched the relief organizations they list. You can go to 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.
- Understand crowdfunding.
While there are resources like give.org 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 who have posted requests for assistance. Also remember that gifts to help a specific individual generally are not deductible as charitable donations for federal income tax purposes.
- See 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. 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 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.
Full recovery from a disaster will be a long-term activity that can take many months or years to accomplish, depending on the extent of the damage. For a list of national BBB Accredited Charities gearing up for hurricane relief efforts, go to give.org.