Making the most impact for Haiti relief: avoiding fundraising fraud during crisis

In the past 8 days, the surge of generosity for Haiti relief has been amazing.  In less than a week, nonprofits using Convio systems have raised over $100 million through email appeals, websites and social media outreach and many other organizations are raising record amounts. Most importantly the support continues to roll in.

Unfortunately there are some bad people in the world too. It’s at this point that some begin seeing frauds and schemes for individuals to capitalize on the relief efforts. And while every donor should take measures to be as savvy as possible when it comes to giving to organizations, there are many resources available to make this a simple task.

In an article by the Seattle Times, the FBI has advised on a short list of tips to help avoid scams including not responding to unsolicited emails, being skeptical of anyone representing themselves as a survivor needing help through email or social networking, verifying  non-profits through independent Internet searching rather than following links, making contributions directly to known organizations and not giving out personal or financial information to anyone who solicits contributions.

Charity Navigator, America’s largest independent charity evaluator, provided last week the following in-depth list of tips and tricks to help fund Haiti relief efforts and ensure funds go to deserving, good-intentioned organizations:

  1. Avoid Newly-Formed Charities and Give To An Established Charity That Has Worked In Haiti – Establishing a new charity is hard enough, but in a crisis, the odds of succeeding are slim to none. Think of it this way: would you entrust all your savings in a financial firm that just opened, doesn’t even have stationery, and whose employees have no experience in investing money? Doubtful. Find a charity with a proven track record of success in providing disaster relief and one that has worked in Haiti. Start with the list of charities on the right and if a group you are considering supporting isn’t there, then take the time to thoroughly research it before making a gift.
  2. Do Not Give To The Haitian Government – Haiti is known to be a corrupt country. And news reports post earthquake indicate that the government is pretty much not functioning. If that isn’t enough reason not to give directly to the Haiti government, then consider the fact that contributions to foreign governments are not tax deductible.
  3. Designate Your Investment – Generally, it is best to trust your chosen charity to spend your donation as it sees fit. But with disaster related giving, you should specify that you want your donation only used to respond to this particular crisis.
  4. Do Not Send Supplies – Knowing that millions of people are desperately in need of food and water, it is hard not to want to pack up a box of supplies and send it to Haiti. But this type of philanthropy is simply not practical or efficient. Even if mail could get to Haiti, no one is set up to receive these goods, much less organize and distribute them to the victims. Furthermore, charities are often able to partner with companies to acquire large amounts of in-kind donations such as bottled water and new clothing. Instead of boxing up and sending your old clothing, have a garage sale and turn your used goods into cash and donate that to a worthy charity.
  5. Be Careful Of Email Solicitations
    • Be Leery Of People That Contact You Online Claiming To Be A Victim – Unless you personally know someone in Haiti, anyone alleging to be in this position is most likely part of a scam. Obviously, people affected by the earthquake are in no position to contact you directly for assistance.
    • Delete Unsolicited Emails With Attachments – Never respond to unsolicited emails. Do not open any attachments to these emails even if they claim to contain pictures from Haiti. These attachments are probably viruses.
  6. Seek Out The Charity’s Authorized Website – Refer to our blog from yesterday as to why this is important.
  7. Is it safe to make a text donation? – So long as you do your homework, yes. Please visit our blog for a longer explanation.
  8. Consider The Nature Of The Charity’s Work – Not every charity is responding in the same way. Some are providing medical assistance, some shelter, some food and water. Others will be more focused on either short term or long term rebuilding efforts. And some are just helping to fundraise for other nonprofits. Think about what it is you want your philanthropic investment to accomplish and then take the time to find the charities doing that work. At Charity Navigator we link to each charity’s website so that you can quickly learn more about their plans to help in Haiti.
  9. Be Inspired By Social Media, But Still Do Your Homework – Social networking tools like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and blogs are delivering heart-wrenching images and information about Haiti to our computers and phones. Many of them include pleas to donate. While these tools can be a powerful tool to inspire your desire to help, you should not blindly give via these vehicles. You must take the time to investigate the groups behind such pleas for help to ensure that it comes from a legitimate nonprofit. For example, you can donate $10 to the American Red Cross by texting “Haiti” to 90999. As of today [when this article was first posted], this tool has raised $3 million for the Haiti earthquake relief efforts(*this number has been greatly supassed at the time of this posting)
  10. Avoid Telemarketers – As always, hang up the phone do your homework and give directly to a charity.
  11. Do Not Expect Immediate Results, But Do Keep Tabs On What Your Donation Accomplishes– It takes time for charities to mobilize, to assess the problems that need to be addressed and to develop effective solutions. Donors need to be patient so charities will not feel pressured to plunge in and offer ineffective aid, simply to placate impatient donors. That doesn’t mean donors shouldn’t hold the charities accountable for delivering on their promises! Be sure to follow up with the charity in a few months to find out (a) how your donation was put to use and (b) if the organization needs additional support to complete the recovery effort.

Note: as we compile additional tips to follow during this time of increased likelihood of fraud, we will continue to update the above list.