Because of our business, we have seen the suffering people endure after disasters firsthand. We also know that most of our customers are especially sensitive to the suffering of others because they, themselves, have suffered through a disaster. Giving to others after a disaster is a great way to feel useful and less helpless when you see the images on TV.
As the season of giving is upon us, we turn our attention to look over the means and methods of disaster donating and how to make the best impact possible.
FEMA cautions that sending or donating used clothing is rarely useful and creates havoc when those on location are forced to deal with it. Shoes, blankets, toys, medicines, pet supplies, mixed boxes, food, water, and unsolicited (untrained) help create serious coping struggles in communities which are already badly compromised. (Exceptions to this are local shelters, which communicate exactly what they need in the way of physical items if you call or visit their website. Also, local families in need can be helped with physical items.)
So, what is left? Money.
The value of your money is twofold: first, it allows charities to prepare for disasters in an organized and educated way. Supplies can be purchased in bulk before they are needed. Money can be used to provide immediate relief by organizations at the front lines. Second, it allows you to take an income tax deduction. If you do make a donation to a charity expecting to take the tax deduction, make absolutely sure it’s a tax deductible donation. Some ‘charities’ don’t qualify.
The next question is, who will you choose to get your money?
First, you have to decide where your heart lies. Whether you’re passionate about pets or vets, if there is a local charity, donations at the local level offer the biggest bang for the buck. For example, if your passion is fighting poverty, you can donate to Salvation Army, and that money stays in the community where you gave the donation. If you donate to your local Red Cross, that money stays in your community (If that money is filtered through Red Cross International, they keep a hefty percentage of it, which is okay if that is what you want.)
One important thing is not to fall prey to misleading emails which claim to provide accurate data on charities or their CEO’s. Do your own research! Charity Watch and Charity Navigator provide some excellent tools. Researching a charity only takes just a few minutes.
Some of the highlights of a solid charity are their transparency and a positive history with good leadership. The wording of the claims on how much of your donation goes toward victims can be tricky. You can read more about that here.
Another thing to watch out for is gifts and high pressure or repeat calls. Sometimes callers are outright scammers. Also, people who call on behalf of charities are sometimes paid telemarketers who make more than the actual charity. So if you want to give to the charity, hang up the phone and give directly through their official website or headquarters. This also saves you from another pitfall: giving your credit card number or bank account number over the phone. Tip: Ask the charity not to share your information with other charities, or before you know it your mailbox will be full of charity solicitations.
Donating is an exciting way to give back to your community and your world. A couple of minutes of your time can turn you into an educated philanthropist and you can do your small part to help make the world a better place.
Happy holidays, everybody!