BBB advises caution when giving after tragedies

By Robb Hicken/ BBB’s chief storyteller

The text arrived at 7:21 a.m. The message was simple: “I’m sure you have been moved by the recent events in Boston and now Texas over the last few days … my heart is heavy.”

At first glance, the phone number on the text appeared foreign, but after opening it, I recognized it was from a friend, Jennifer, in Meridian. Her petition and plea was to give blood, not money. She concluded: “I hope you will take some time to donate this precious gift of life, if  you can.”

With the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas this morning, as well as the tragic explosions at the Boston Marathon earlier this week, many consumers will be looking for ways to help friends, families and others in need.

Unfortunately, events such as these bring out scammers and fraudulent businesses  seeking to prey on the charitable and giving. BBB advises consumers to give to charities listed with BBB Wise Giving Alliance.

American Red Cross is an Accredited Charity with WGA and accepting donations at www.Redcross.org/charitable-donations.

Tips for giving:

  • Thoughtful Giving. Take the time to check out the charity to avoid wasting your generosity by donating to a questionable or poorly managed effort.
  • Help spread the Wise Giving Word. Remind your friends and family to be cautious about giving requests in the wake of such a tragedy and ask them to spread the word as well.
  • What if a Family Sets Up Its Own Assistance Fund? Some families may set up their own assistance funds. Such funds may not be set up as charities. Also, make sure that collected monies are received and administered by a third-party such as a bank, CPA or lawyer. This will help provide oversight and make sure the collected funds are used appropriately (e.g., paying for funeral costs, counseling, and other tragedy-related needs.)
  • Online Cautions. Never click on links to charities on unfamiliar websites or in texts or emails. These may take you to a lookalike website where you will be asked to give personal financial information or to click on something that downloads harmful malware into your computer. Don’t assume that charity recommendations on Facebook, blogs or other social media have already been vetted.
  • Financial Transparency. After funds are raised for a tragedy, it is even more important for organizations to give an accounting of how funds were spent. Transparent organizations will post this information on their websites so that anyone can find out and not have to wait until the audited financial statements are available sometime in the future.
  • Newly Created or Established Organizations. This is a personal giving choice, but an established charity will more likely be able to address the circumstances and have a track record that can be evaluated. A newly formed organization may be well-meaning but will be difficult to check out and may not be well-managed.
  • Tax Deductibility. Not all organizations collecting funds to aid this tragedy are tax exempt as charities under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Donors can support these other entities but keep this in mind if they want to take a deduction for federal income tax purposes. In addition, contributions that are donor-restricted to help a specific person/family are not deductible as charitable donations, even if the recipient organization is a charity.
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1 Comment

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One response to “BBB advises caution when giving after tragedies

  1. Mark Burrows

    In all cases, it is more simple just to stick with making your donations to where you always have. First and above all, if you have it in you to give, give blood. If not, as some people are unable because of their own health issues or medications they are on, the Red Cross will take cash. They are one of the first people involved in any tragic situation. Even donation given to the Salvation Army with regards to specific situations mobilizes that organization to provide succor to injured and people in shock. Even the Mayo Clinic is benevolent with philanthropy pitching in with extreme medical treatment. Donations to any of these places will serve. Too many people, even with good intentions jump on the band wagon in the face of tragedy, and even if they are legitimate they may only send a small percentage of the donations towards anything claiming that costs of staff, processing, supplies, and legal documentation eats up most of the funds collected. Even greater are of course, the scam artists who manipulate your feelings by pouring it on too thick. If really in doubt, seek council at your church, talk to the highest representative allotted to you and see if there is a collection in your local area and if not inquire about one. If the heads of your religion can not organize and distribute a charitable fund, then I suggest you find a new religion. I am not a fanatic, but if I had to I could probably pull up scripture of document from any religious text whether it be Christian, Jewish, Muslim, or Hindu and find that it is God’s will to be charitable in His house. Even if you are an atheist or agnostic, then use a sense of human compassion. Someday you might be in dire straits and some stranger will literally pull you out of the fire.

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