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Weathering Multiple Disaster-Relief Requests

Drew Harper, CFP®, CFA - Friday, September 8, 2017

Due diligence with donating | M.J. Smith & AssociatesWhen Hurricane Harvey struck parts of the Texas and Louisiana coasts a couple of weeks ago, generous Americans opened their wallets to provide aid and comfort to the many people who lost their homes – and in some cases, loved ones or pets, as well. In fact, Raymond James announced it would donate $100,000 toward relief efforts, and provided this link to the American Red Cross for others who wished to contribute.


Unfortunately, Hurricane season lasts until the end of November, and over the past few days, we saw Hurricane Irma take the headlines from Harvey, devastating parts of Florida. Hurricane Jose may be next, in keeping with forecasts that have already called for above-average activity this season.


How do you know that the dollars you pledge will make it to the victims who need it most?

The hurricane victims in Florida and the Caribbean will need just as much help as the ones in Texas, and you may find yourself with more requests for donations. How do you know that the dollars you pledge will make it to the victims who need it most?

CNN reported this week that after Hurricane Katrina, the FBI found more than 4,600 new websites appeared asking for donations to relief efforts, and that law enforcement suspected most of those sites to be fake. Controversy even surrounds charities we recognize as legitimate. NPR questioned an executive of the Red Cross this week and found he didn’t know what percentage of donations to victims of Hurricane Harvey would go directly to help those affected by the storm.


Before you donate, do your due diligence.

We know that hurricane victims will need help, both now and in the years to come. Before you donate, however, do your due diligence. Both Charity Navigator and Guidestar provide data on nonprofit organizations, including contact information, revenue and expenses, balance sheet information, annual reports, access to the charity’s Form 990, and more. Charity Navigator also uses a star review system to evaluate nonprofits based on their financial health, and accountability and transparency. Right now, both Charity Navigator and Guidestar have pages dedicated to the Hurricane Harvey relief effort, and Charity Navigator offers specific tips on giving in times of crisis.

Another means of generating donations involves crowdsourcing. Both individuals and companies are using crowdsourcing sites to raise money for relief efforts. However, if you want specific information on how and when your money will be used to aid victims, you may be out of luck. Unlike registered nonprofits who file taxes with the IRS, creators of crowdfunding programs have no obligation to disclose how they spend your money. Daniel Borochoff, president of CharityWatch.org, recently told the Wall Street Journal that donors should only contribute to crowdsourcing sites if they know the victims personally. In addition, he said that even real victims may have other forms of support or may be entitled to insurance, and may be using crowdsourcing sites to get more than they really need.


Bottom line: don’t give blindly to a cause.

With a little research, you can ensure that your donation will truly make a difference to those in need. If you have questions about charitable giving, or would like to schedule a complimentary, no-obligation review of your portfolio, M.J. Smith & Associates is here to help. We look forward to helping you achieve your financial goals.



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