What to Know Before You Donate to Haitian Relief

There�s nothing charitable about getting scammed

charity1willI’m amazed at the outpouring of support for Haiti since a devastating earthquake ravaged the nation’s capital, Port Au Prince, on Jan. 12. Between social networking sites, regular Websites, and even e-mail groups, people have sprung into action donating money, supplies, and staple goods to various organizations for Haiti relief. However, I am also well aware that in any tragedy where people open their hearts, there are also scoundrels ready to take advantage of the public’s kindness. Well, before you give to any organizations, here are a couple of tips to help you maximize your donation and make sure your money is going to the right place.

Check for legitimacy. Before donating to any organization, even some of the more established groups, it’s imperative that you know that the organization is legit and not a backyard operation looking to take advantage of your kindness. Second, make sure you understand where your money is going. As a business reporter, I usually refer to Guide Star when researching a nonprofit. You have to sign up on GuideStar.org to look at an organization’s financial information, but it’s free and well worth the seven minutes it takes to become a member. Guide Star allows you to look at an organization’s 990 tax form which itemizes its expenses, salary for top executives, and operating budget. From this form you can actually determine how much of the donations go to programming and how much go toward administrative and overhead expenses. Guide Star is one of the many companies that offer such services. You can also check out National Association of State Charity Officials and the BBB Wise Giving Alliance.

Figure out the tax status. There is a difference between “tax exempt” and “tax deductible.” According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), tax exempt organizations do not have to pay taxes. But that does not necessarily mean that your contribution to them is tax deductible. A tax deductible donation means that you can deduct it on your federal income tax return. If a tax deduction is important to you, ask for a receipt showing the amount you contributed and make sure it states that all donations are tax deductible, says the FTC.

See if your company will match you. Some corporations have matching gift programs where they will match employees’ charitable donations, doubling the amount donated. Check with your human resources department to find out if your employer matches charitable contributions. You can also check out MatchingGifts.com to look up corporations with matching programs.

Unfortunately, as many people as there are willing to help, there are also those only willing to help themselves. Scams have been making their way into inboxes claiming to be from the British Red Cross Society, according to security software company, Symantec. This spam includes the correct postal address of the British Red Cross in its appeal asking that donations be sent through Western Union, according to a blog written by Symantec analyst, Mathew Nisbet. The email address used in the letter does not belong to the British Red Cross.

Other scams include “old email spam campaigns, but include large chunks of text scraped from news Websites.”

If you’re still looking for a trustworthy and reliable organization to donate to, consider Doctors Without Borders, the American Red Cross, and other organizations mentioned here.

Also, actor Wyclef Jean and George Clooney are hosting Hope for Haiti Now: A Global Benefit for Earthquake Relief, a live telethon Friday night to raise funds for victims of the earthquake.

Renita Burns is a staff writer at BlackEnterprise.com

ACROSS THE WEB