GREENSBORO, N.C. - Whenever there's a major natural disaster, organizations jump in to help with the relief effort. Charities are already busy during this time of year because of the holidays.
So, how can you make sure you don't get ripped off? Don't make a donation based solely on a charity's name. The Better Business Bureau says schemers often create fake organizations that include the name of a disaster to make it sound more official. Responding to social media campaigns that you haven't checked out is another common mistake. The BBB says just because your friend posted a link to donate, doesn't mean you should trust it.
No matter where you donate, Greensboro Better Business Bureau President Kevin Hinterberger says to ask, "How much of my donation ends up going to the charity organization that you're representing? They should be able to provide that information to you and they should be able to give you a percentage of what that amount would be."
The American Red Cross says 91 percent of your money goes to directly to help people, near or far. The Salvation Army reports 88 percent of your contribution goes to local programs and services. More than 85 percent of dollars stay right here in the local community when you give to the United Way. Keep in mind, each of these organizations has different goals, programs and missions.
Greensboro United Way President and CEO Michelle Gethers-Clark says, "We truly do spend time getting under the cover or peeling back the onion to say, 'What are some of the root causes and how do we change the lives of people?...We pool our intellectual and financial resources to direct our energy toward direct programming that provides the solution directly to citizens most in need."
We've all heard the warning before: if someone calls you and asks for money, it could be a schemer. However, sometimes organizations hire companies to help them get donations. The Better Business Bureau says you should ask the person on the line if they work or volunteer directly for an organization, or if they're a telemarketer. If you want all of your money to go to a certain cause, hang up and call the group yourself. Then, you know there's not a middle-man getting a cut.
"You need to protect your personal information. You need to protect your credit card information. If someone is very adamant you that need to make a donation now, it's a red flag," Hinterberger said.
Other key questions you should ask before donating:
* How much of your donation goes to help people?
* How much does the organization keep to cover its own expenses?
* How will the group spend your money? In many cases, you can give specific instructions about where you want your money to go.
Better Business Bureau's List of Common Donation Mistakes:
• MISTAKE # 1: MAKING A DONATION DECISION BASED SOLELY ON CHARITY'S NAME.
Charities ranging from well-known emergency relief organizations to organizations experienced in reconstruction will likely be soliciting for various relief assistance efforts. Make sure the appeal specifies how the charity will help. If it does not, visit the charity's website. Also, watch out for charity names that include the name of the disaster - it could be a start-up group with little experience or a questionable effort seeking to gain confidence through its title.
• MISTAKE # 2: COLLECT CLOTHING AND GOODS WITHOUT VERIFYING THAT ITEMS CAN BE USED.
Unless you have verified that a charity is in need of specific items and has a distribution plan in place, collecting clothing, food and other goods may end up being a wasted effort. Relief organizations often prefer to purchase goods near the location of the disaster to help speed delivery and avoid expensive long distance freight costs. Also, sending non-essential items may actually slow down the charity's ability to address urgent needs.
• MISTAKE # 3: SENDING DONATIONS TO INEXPERIENCED RELIEF EFFORTS
Good intentions alone are not enough to carry out relief activities effectively. If the charity has not previously been involved in disaster relief, or does not have experience in assisting the overseas nation(s) that have been impacted, this likely will hamper their ability to work well in the affected areas.
• MISTAKE # 4: RESPONDING TO ONLINE & SOCIAL MEDIA APPEALS WITHOUT CHECKING
Don't let your guard down just because the appeal is online. Don't assume that since a third-party blog, website or friend recommended a relief charity that it has been thoroughly vetted. Check out the charity's website on your own.
• MISTAKE #5: DONATING WITHOUT DOING YOUR HOMEWORK
Find out if a charity meets recognized accountability standards. If you want assurance that the charity is transparent, accountable, and well managed, see if it meets the BBB Wise Giving Alliance's 20 "Standards for Charity Accountability" by visiting Give.org