Fires pull at heartstrings, inspire donations; know before you give

By Robb Hicken/ BBB’s chief storyteller

Televised reports from Central Idaho show walls of flames creeping through pristine forests toward Sun Valley Resort and the communities of Hailey and Ketchum.  Residents have been moved out, as fire fighters are turning the corner.Beaver Creek Fires

The Red Cross set up a shelter at the Ketchum Community Center near the Airport  and had 41 residents the first night, and 14 more arriving the next morning.

“While we appreciate the offers, we do not need additional volunteers,” Barbara Fawcett, communication specialist for Red Cross of Greater Idaho, says. “The shelter is staffed with trained Red Cross volunteers who are versed in shelter management and casework.”

She says Red Cross sees an upswing in financial contributions and volunteer inquiries when a natural disaster hits, and warns people to verify they are giving to the proper organization. Financial donations will be used to give food, shelter and for staffing, she says.

Better Business Bureau warns that disasters like these pull on the heartstrings of caring people. Scammers know this and may be calling you. Check out the organization before you give.

BBB encourages the following:

Be cautious when giving online. In response to unsolicited spam messages, emails and social media posts that claim to link to a relief organization, go directly to the charity’s website. The FBI and others raised concerns about websites and new organizations that were created overnight, allegedly to help victims.

Rely on expert opinion when it comes to evaluating a charity. Be cautious when relying on third-party recommendations such as bloggers or other websites, as they may not have fully researched the relief organizations they list. Go to to research charities and relief organizations and verify that they are accredited by BBB and meet the 20 Standards for Charity Accountability.

Be wary of claims that 100 percent of donations will aid relief victims. Despite what an organization might claim, charities have fundraising and administrative costs. Even a credit card donation will involve, at a least, a processing fee. If a charity claims 100 percent of collected funds will be assisting disaster victims, the truth is the organization is still probably incurring fund-raising and administrative expenses. It may use some of its other funds to pay these costs, but the expenses will still be incurred.

Find out if the charity has an on-the-ground presence in the affected areas. Unless the charity already has staff in the affected areas, it may be difficult to bring in new aid workers to give assistance quickly. See if the charity’s website clearly describes what the charity can do to discuss immediate needs.

Find out if the charity is providing direct aid or raising money for other groups. Some charities may be raising money to pass along to relief organizations. If so, you may want to consider “avoiding the middleman” and give directly to those that are in the region. Or, at a least, check out the final recipients of these donations to see whether they are equipped to give aid effectively.

Gifts of clothing, food or other in-kind donations. In-kind drives for food and clothing, while well-intentioned, may not necessarily be the quickest way to help those in need – unless the organization has the staff and infrastructure to distribute such aid properly. Ask the charity about its transportation and distribution plans. Be wary of those who are not experienced in disaster relief assistance.

Bottom line: Donations to Red Cross of Greater Idaho can be made online at


1 Comment

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One response to “Fires pull at heartstrings, inspire donations; know before you give

  1. Mark Burrows

    We are human beings. We have a sense of our humanity and feel the need to be good Samaritans in helping others in times of tragedy and despair. What we fail to do, is learn restraint.
    The best rule is to establish your own patterns to which societies, foundations, and charities that you will donate to and stick to it.
    We can’t throw money at every situation. We need to pick and choose. I know you may think I am being heartless, but in reality I am not.
    The Red Cross is one of the best organizations in the world and should be on the top of everyone’s list. Even if you can’t give money, blood donation is vital. You can always check to see in the Red Cross is involved in any crisis you are concerned with and confirm what their immediate needs are.
    The next thing should be your church. If your faith does not get involved with emergency and crisis situations, then in my opinion you belong to the wrong religion.
    Then your list can include charities that are important to you such as health and medical concerns. These charities may not be at the pinnacle of the crisis or tragedy, but they are there for the aftermath.
    With such restraint, you can give when and where you wish and feel both self confident and less heart struck when you see tragedy. Simply because you are already in the loop. Rushing in with blankets and food will not make you a hero, it will make you a hindrance to the professional workers and volunteer staff that are trying to control and contain the situation.
    Need I remind you of the recent 2011 disaster of the earthquake and tsunami where so much money was poured into relief funds that it was in excess, and that was the legitimate money, never mind what the scam artists grabbed. They couldn’t return it, so they are still using it to do repairs and reinforcing infrastructure, almost two years later.
    Point being, tragedy relief can be overdone.

    Mark Burrows

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