Hurricane Harvey: Learn how to pick the best charity, and track how your money's spent

Hurricane Harvey: Learn how to pick the best charity, and track how your money's spent
Report scams to the Federal Trade Commission

Before donating to any charity -- especially after a major natural disaster like Hurricane Harvey -- it’s important to research the group or organization.

Fil de Banate, an attorney for the Cleveland branch of the Federal Trade Commission, has a few tips to make sure donated money is well spent.  

De Banate said it’s always good to double check organizations, no matter how good they may sound over the phone, or on social media. De Banate recommended checking out charities online using websites like Charity Navigator, or Charity Watch. He said its important to make sure a charity is real, and to check to see how long its been in business. 

In natural disasters like this, there tends to be some charities that spring up out of nowhere. So what we advise folks to do is be cautious of those charities that are brand new, said de Banate. He said brand new is generally considered a year old or less.

Even if a young charity is legitimate, de Banate said its important to think about what that organization will likely be able to do with your donation, and how quickly they will be able to act. 

Even if these charities are legitimate do they have the ability and the infrastructure to get the money you donate to the victims and get it them when they need it the most, said de Banate. 

Local, accredited charities like the Houston SPCA, the Houston Humane Society, the Houston Food Bank, the Food Bank of Corpus Christi and the San Antonio Humane Society are highly recommended by agencies like the independent nonprofit Charity Navigator. Those agencies are local, and have the connections to help people immediately on the ground in Harvey-affected areas. 

As an example of the wide array of differences between how real charities spend their money, Cleveland 19 compared a charity called the Disabled Police and Sheriffs Association and the American Red Cross.  The Disabled Police and Sheriffs Association was featured by Charity Navigator as an example of a charity that spends too much on professional fundraising efforts.

In 2015, that charity spent more than $1.5 million. More than $1.4 million was spent on professional fundraising services, only about $85,000 was spent on program services. The Foundation spent about 92 percent of its money that year on professional fundraising services. 
Compare that to the American Red Cross.  That organization has a significantly larger budget, spending more than $2.5 billion in 2015. About 90 percent of that money was spent on programs or services that the Red Cross provides. 

At the end of the day, our country, we look out for each other. We have to make sure that money goes where it needs to go, said de Banate. 

The Federal Trade Commission has this information about how to donate wisely during a natural disaster, and advice for the survivors of the storm.

CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - From the Federal Trade Commission:

Wise giving after the storm

If you’re looking for a way to give, be cautious of charity scams. Do some research to ensure that your donation will go to a reputable organization that will use the money as promised:

  • style="margin-top:0in;margin-right:0in;margin-bottom:5.55pt;background:white;">Donate to charities you know and trust with a proven track record with dealing with disasters.
  • style="margin-top:0in;margin-right:0in;margin-bottom:5.55pt;background:white;">Be alert for charities that seem to have sprung up overnight in connection with current events. Check out the charity with the Better Business Bureau's (BBB) Wise Giving Alliance(link is external)Charity Navigator(link is external)Charity Watch(link is external), or GuideStar(link is external).
  • style="margin-top:0in;margin-right:0in;margin-bottom:5.55pt;background:white;">Designate the disaster so you can ensure your funds are going to disaster relief, rather than a general fund.
  • style="margin-top:0in;margin-right:0in;margin-bottom:5.55pt;background:white;">Never click on links or open attachments in e-mails unless you know who sent it. You could unknowingly install malware on your computer.
  • style="margin-top:0in;margin-right:0in;margin-bottom:5.55pt;background:white;">Don’t assume that charity messages posted on social media are legitimate. Research the organization yourself.
  • style="margin-top:0in;margin-right:0in;margin-bottom:5.55pt;background:white;">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.
  • style="margin-top:0in;margin-right:0in;margin-bottom:5.55pt;background:white;">Find out if the charity or fundraiser must be registered in your state by contacting the National Association of State Charity Officials(link is external). If they should be registered, but they're not, consider donating through another charity.

Picking up the pieces

The storm has devastated much of Southeastern Texas. Once the rain and floodwaters recede, it will be time to take stock and develop a recovery plan. Here are some tips and links to resources to help make the task less burdensome:

  • style="margin-top:0in;margin-right:0in;margin-bottom:5.55pt;background:white;">Contact your insurance company. Ask what the next steps are in assessing any damage to your home or business.
  • style="margin-top:0in;margin-right:0in;margin-bottom:5.55pt;background:white;">Your home and its contents may look beyond hope, but it’s possible many of your belongings can be restored. With luck and hard work, your flooded home could be cleaned up, dried out, rebuilt, and reoccupied.
  • style="margin-top:0in;margin-right:0in;margin-bottom:5.55pt;background:white;">Be skeptical of people promising immediate clean-up and debris removal. Some may demand payment up-front for work they never do, quote outrageous prices, or simply lack the skills, licenses, and insurance to legally do the work.
  • style="margin-top:0in;margin-right:0in;margin-bottom:5.55pt;background:white;">If you’re looking for a place to rent during recovery, be cautious of rental listing scams. Scammers often advertise rentals that don’t exist to trick people into sending money before they find out the truth.
  • style="margin-top:0in;margin-right:0in;margin-bottom:5.55pt;background:white;">Many people will be asking for your personal information. Make sure you know who you are dealing with. Ask for identification before you share your Social Security or account numbers. Scammers sometimes pose as government officials, and ask for your financial information or money to apply for aid that you can request on your own for free. Government officials will never ask you for money in exchange for information or the promise of a check.
  • style="margin-top:0in;margin-right:0in;margin-bottom:5.55pt;background:white;">You might have had to leave your home without IDs, checks, credit and debit cards, and other documents. You also might be without access to a bank account or paycheck for some time. If you need to get money, understand your options for paying bills and replacing important documents. This list of contacts may help you regain your financial footing.
  • style="margin-top:0in;margin-right:0in;margin-bottom:5.55pt;background:white;">Call your creditors and ask for help. If you’re a homeowner, even if your home is uninhabitable, you still have a mortgage. Contact your lender to discuss your options.”

Copyright 2017 WOIO. All rights reserved.