How to be sure your charity dollars are really making a difference

CINCINNATI -- Most of us lack the time, money and qualifications to travel directly to the scenes of disasters such as hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria to help their victims, so we turn to the internet to learn how we can help. 

Can we donate money online? Where can we drop off food and other goods for victims? Where should we donate blood?

In situations like this, well-intentioned would-be helpers can be taken advantage of by scammers who smell opportunity in others' suffering.

"They will set up sound-alike charities that people are familiar with, but it's not actually the charity itself," Cincinnati Better Business Bureau outreach specialist Sandra Guile said. "They will collect money saying it's going to a good cause, it's going to help victims, it is going to send support and supplies, when in fact all they're doing is pocketing the money."

That's where she comes in. The Better Business Bureau compiles charity reviews that grade local and national nonprofits on their accountability, transparency and effectiveness in distributing donated resources. If you're concerned about a given organization, Give.org tracks which groups are accredited by the bureau and which aren't, breaking down their effectiveness point by point.

In addition to that, Guile had a few general tips:

  • Carefully inspect a charity website's URL for spelling errors and abnormalities such as strange domain names. Would the American Red Cross really ask for your money at redcross.corn?
  • Make sure the donation page has an https:// prefix or a padlock symbol. If those security signs aren't there, your financial information might not be secure.
  • Finally, even if you're 100 percent sure you're giving to a trustworthy organization, triple-check you're giving things they really need. All that canned food and those donated toys given to victims of Harvey and Irma? A lot of it will sit in warehouses, untouched by the people for whom it was intended, because it's either not necessary or impractical to transport.

Want to give to organizations you know you can trust? We compiled a list of trustworthy charities sending aid to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, and you can donate directly to Las Vegas via a GoFundMe set up by county officials.

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