A recent article from Christianity Today’s Church Law & Tax brought up some interesting issues related to disaster relief. In the article, How Not to Bring Relief After Natural Disaster, the author points out some of the ways we try to help, when really we are hurting the disaster relief process.

Unfortunately, scams abound when disasters strike–yet another problem to content with. If you want to be sure your precious funds are going to help, these three strategies offered up by Todd Baylis, president and founder of Qgiv online giving, may help. I posed several questions related to disaster relief scams to move us carefully to action:

What are some specific ways donors can beware of scams and make good decisions about to what organizations they donate too?

First, it is critical for donors to conduct due diligence when choosing an organization to contribute to. There are many fraudulent charities launched following major disasters. To ensure that the funds being donated reach those in need I have listed below specific ways below to avoid these scams:

1) Go Local

Donate to local charities that you trust and know can have an impact, whether that be directly or through affiliate organizations such as churches or government organizations. Also, it is important to ensure legitimacy by checking a charity’s 501(c)(3) status, state registration or tax exempt status.

2) Look for Transparency

Make sure the charity you have chosen to donate to is transparent with its funds and can show record of where its funds have been dispersed and how much was raised. Organizations should demonstrate accountability to its donors and hold a reputable position within the community.

3) Do Your Homework

If the organization is not a nationally recognized disaster relief agency (i.e. Red Cross), use the technologies available to conduct thorough research regarding the organization’s history and mission statement. It is key to remember that you are looking to verify two things:

  1. That you trust the organization to use your funds as they say they are going to.
  2. The organization is in a position and has the resources and ability to actually help victims of the disaster.

Here are a few additional questions to ponder:

How can churches be transparent about what percentage is given to disaster relief? What if outside agencies are involved?

Disaster relief

Before significant funds are raised and campaigns are launched, a church should understand what their plan is for the funds. This should include a goal of what percentage will be given to disaster relief vs. overhead, whether to create a separate campaign/fund and what outside agencies (if any) will receive these funds. Afterwards, an “accountability report” should be published, presenting final numbers (and, if applicable, distributions to outside agencies) to be shared with the donors and community through standard communications channels (website, social media, bulletins and verbally).

Why is it necessary to be cautious with social media? What are some negative things to avoid?

The biggest thing to remember is that social media does not necessarily have an automatic validation of information being distributed. While there are many trustworthy sources that disseminate opportunities to help in the event of a disaster, further research should be done to make sure that funds are being donated to an organization with the ability to help people in need. Things to be wary of are social media accounts that appear suddenly after a disaster and do not maintain consistent communications afterwards. Additionally, in terms of social media etiquette, charities that inappropriately use hashtags and keywords, such as ones that are meant to honor or remember a tragedy, to ask for money should be looked at carefully.