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Giving to Disaster Relief and Recovery

When disaster strikes, people want to help. Unfortunately, it's not always clear which nonprofits can respond most effectively, or even if some organizations asking for donations are legitimate. Here are five tips to help you give wisely.

Giving Tips

  1. Be pro-active, not re-active.

    It's not necessary or wise to respond to every call or request. The best way you can protect yourself as a donor is to follow the steps below to identify the nonprofit(s) you want to support.

  2. Determine what kind of programs you want to support.

    What are your values and priorities? What matters to you? "Disaster relief and recovery" has many faces—emergency housing, provision of potable water, medical assistance, feeding the hungry, sending in search and rescue teams, long-term rebuilding, and more. Decide which one(s) you want to give to.

  3. Do a little research.

    Use a reputable source, such as GuideStar, or one of our partners, such as Network for Good or JustGive, to identify charities doing the work you want to support. All of the charities listed on these sites are legitimate organizations recognized by the IRS, and you can contribute directly from the sites.

    If you already have an organization in mind and are familiar with its Web site, you can do your research there. Be careful, however, if you haven't been to the site before or don't know the organization well. Con artists often post bogus Web sites and run scam donation campaigns immediately after a disaster. If you aren't already familiar with a relief organization's site, protect yourself by linking to it from a trusted site such as GuideStar, Network for Good, or JustGive. Avoid new Web sites and links provided in e-mails. And don't text your donation unless you're very sure that you're texting a legitimate organization.

  4. Ask questions.

    • Does the charity have experience working in disaster relief and in particular in the nation where the disaster has occurred?
      Time is of the essence—lives are at risk, so you want to give to organizations that can get relief where it needs to go quickly and efficiently.

    • How does the charity describe its mission and programs? Its accomplishments?
      Do the programs support the mission? Does the charity use concrete measurements to evaluate its accomplishments?

    • How do people who have firsthand experience with the charity evaluate its services?
      Check GuideStar or our partner GreatNonprofits for reviews.

  5. Consider making another gift in a few weeks or months, or giving an unrestricted gift to an experienced organization's general disaster-relief fund.

    "Disaster relief" is a long-term process, as we've seen in the aftermath of the December 26, 2004, tsunamis and Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Donating in a few months or even a year can make a difference in many lives.

    Regarding unrestricted gifts, remember that relief organizations can’t wait until donations start coming in to respond to a disaster—they have to get to the scene as quickly as possible. By giving to a general relief fund, you give the organization the ability to use your donation where and when it is most needed. Perhaps that will be in Chile today. Perhaps it will be at someplace else in the future. But your gift to a nonprofit’s general relief fund will make a difference.

Street flooded by hurricane waters

Why you should consider making an unrestricted gift to disaster relief

Top-ranked disaster response organizations