Disaster-response donors urged to use care

Photo by Hugh Osteen

Photo by Hugh Osteen

By M.J. Subiria Arauz


Individuals who wish to donate to disaster-relief efforts, following the recent earthquake and tsunami that devastated much of Japan and the surrounding areas should make sure the charity, or relief organizations are legitimate and reputable, said Fred Elsberry, Jr., president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau Serving Metro Atlanta, Athens & Northeast Georgia.

A 8.9-magnitude earthquake struck the country earlier this month, and was followed by a tsunami. The resulting destruction has left thousands missing, and hundreds dead, and homes, schools, factories and much of the infrastructure destroyed, or paralyzed, according to media and eyewitness reports.

"When we learn of these disasters, our natural instinct is to reach out to charities and relief efforts that can help," said Elsberry. He said donors should not only be concerned about fraud, but they also need to be sure that their monetary donations are handled by experienced charities that are equipped to jump the hurdles that must be overcome to provide assistance.

People should rely on expert opinion when they are evaluating a charity, he added. Bloggers and web sites may not have performed the adequate research needed to make sure the relief organizations, or charities they list are legitimate, or capable of providing the services they claim to provide.

Individuals should visit the BBB's web site -- www.bbb.org/charity -- to research these organizations and verify if they're accredited by the BBB, he said.

Donors should also be cautious when giving online, according to Elsberry. There are various spam e-mails that attempt to coax people to click on a link to donate, he said. Also, people should find out whether a charity or relief organization actually has staff located in the affected areas, he said.

"See if the charity's web site clearly describes what they can do to address immediate needs," he added. Elsberry said donors should consider giving directly to charities that have a direct presence in the affected area. He explained that some charities, however, do raise money to then give to relief organizations present in the area that needs assistance.

At the very least, he said, people should research the ultimate recipients of the donations, to ensure the organizations are prepared to effectively provide aid to victims. Also, he warned, be cautious of claims that promise that 100 percent of donations will assist the victims. Despite this claim, charities must meet fund-raising and administrative costs, he said.

Aside from monetary donations, donations such as food or clothing can be made, Elsberry said, but they won't get to the affected area quickly. "A money donation may be far more helpful to a charity that is responding to a crisis situation," said Elsberry, adding that the quickest way a monetary donation can get to a charity, is through the charity's web site.