The emotional toll of the mass shootings at the Uvalde, Texas elementary school and at the Buffalo, New York supermarket will inspire many to make donations to help the impacted families.
While most people are inherently good, there are individuals who will seek to take advantage of others’ good intentions. There is a degree of urgency involved to help provide assistance to the families after recent tragedies, but some caution is necessary.
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If you are concerned and wish to donate you should take appropriate steps to avoid questionable appeals that seek to take advantage of your generosity.
You can’t assume that everyone using the names or photos of victims has received permission from families to do so. Be cautious about appeals that don’t identify the intended use of funds.
The Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance urges donors to give thoughtfully and avoid those seeking to take advantage of the generosity of others.
Here are some tips for trusted giving:
- Thoughtful Giving: Visit Give.org to verify if a charity meets the BBB Standards for Charitable Accountability. Take the time to find out how the organization plans to address either immediate or long-term needs. The first request for a donation may not be the best choice.
- Crowdfunding: Keep in mind that some crowdfunding sites take precautions in carefully screening, vetting, and managing postings, others might not. Review the crowdfunding site to find out about posting procedures, transaction fees and other specifics. It is always safest to contribute to individuals that you personally know. If the post claims it intends to pass along collected funds to a charity, consider cutting out the middleman and visit the charity’s website directly.
- How Will Donations Be Used? Watch out for vague appeals that don’t identify the intended use of funds. For example, how will the donations help victims’ families? Also, unless told otherwise, donors will assume that funds collected quickly in the wake of a disaster or tragedy will be spent just as quickly. See if the appeal identifies when the collected funds will be used.
- Be Wary of 100 Percent Claims. Watch out for claims that 100 percent of donations will assist victims and/or their families. While it is possible that a charity is using other funds to cover administrative and fundraising expenses, that does not mean those costs don’t exist. See if the appeal includes an explanation about how this percentage is achieved.
- Online Caution: Never click on links to unfamiliar charity websites or in text messages or email. These may take you to a look-alike website where you will be asked to provide personal financial information or may download harmful malware onto your computer. Don’t assume that charity recommendations on social media have already been vetted.
- Financial Transparency: After funds are raised for a tragedy, it is even more important for organizations to provide an accounting of how funds were spent. Transparent organizations will post this information on their websites so that anyone can find out without having to wait until the audited financial statements are available sometime in the future.
- Respect for Victims and Their Families: Organizations or crowdfunding postings raising funds should get permission from the families to use either the names and/or any photographs of victims of the disaster or tragedy.
- What if a Family Sets Up Its Own Assistance Fund? Some families may decide to set up their own assistance funds. Be mindful that such funds may not be set up as charities.
- Advocacy Organizations: Tragedies that involve violent acts with firearms can also generate requests from a variety of advocacy organizations that address gun use. Donors can support these efforts as well but note that some of these advocacy groups are not tax-exempt as charities. Also, watch out for newly-created advocacy groups that will be difficult to check out.
- Tax Deductibility: Not all organizations collecting funds in the U.S. to assist after a tragedy are tax exempt as charities under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Donors can support these other entities, but keep this in mind if they want to take a deduction for federal income tax purposes. In addition, contributions that are donor-restricted to help a specific individual or family are generally not deductible in the U.S. as charitable donations, even if the recipient organization is a charity.
Dennis Horton is director of the Rockford Regional Office of the Better Business Bureau, which serves Winnebago, Boone and Stephenson counties among others in northern Illinois.