Immediately following hurricanes Harvey and Irma, many of us just wanted to do something. Images of flood-swamped neighborhoods and roofless houses understandably had many people quickly reaching into their pockets to help the relief efforts.
If you truly want to maximize the power of your giving, however, it pays to slow down the process.
First, take some time to do due diligence and make sure you are giving to an organization that has a good reputation and whose work aligns with your values. Start at a website like Charity Navigator or GuideStar (or both). These sites offer databases that will tell you the scale of an organization, its history of transparency and accountability, details about the programs it runs, and information about governance practices — things like whether the organization has a conflict of interest policy if its financials are easily accessible.
If you want to dive in deep, review charities’ 990 tax forms online to get a sense of how much money they spend and how much goes to executive salaries.
Once you have a charity or three in mind, make a plan. Many organizations receive a glut of giving in the aftermath of a catastrophic event, but find donations tapering off after a few weeks, even when there is plenty of recovery work yet to be done.
“It’s great that this money is going to this organization now,” says Charity Navigator spokeswoman Sara Nason. “But organizations that are going to be in the affected area long after the disaster has happened are going to need a continued cash flow.”
Nason suggests planning to contact the charities to which you donate six months after an event to find out how they’ve been using the money they’ve received and what they most need to continue their work. As an added resource, GuideStar and Charity Navigator, in partnership, will be releasing more in-depth information in November about the results achieved by many of the organizations they report on.
“They will be able to say, ‘Here’s how we are impacting our community, here’s how we are actually using our money,’” Nason says.
Those looking to extend their impact should consider spreading out their total contribution through recurring monthly donations.
Many organizations will allow you to automate your monthly giving. If your chosen charity does not, consider setting up a regularly scheduled gift using your bank’s online payment system.Have a consumer question or complaint? Reach Sarah Shemkus at firstname.lastname@example.org.