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Donate wisely to tsunami disaster

TheLocalBBB warns our service area that some people will attempt to take advantage of Americans' eagerness to assist victims of the recent Tsunami tragedy in Southern Asia.

"The BBB Wise Giving Alliance encourages the public to contribute to helpful causes that will assist the families and victims of the Tsunami catastrophe," states Art Taylor, President & CEO of the BBB Wise Giving Alliance, "Donors should make certain, however, that the charity is properly registered with appropriate state government agencies, that it describes exactly what it will do to address the needs of victims, and that it is willing to provide written information about its finances and programs."

"Donors can visit the give.org website to access detailed evaluative reports on many of the U.S. based relief organizations providing assistance in South Asia," Taylor notes, "We also encourage other U.S. based disaster relief organizations providing Tsunami assistance to enroll with the Alliance at give.org so that we can evaluate their efforts in relation to the 20 Standards for Charity Accountability."

In addition to checking with the BBB Wise Giving Alliance, donors should consider the following tips:

1. Donors should be wary of any charity that is inexperienced in carrying out relief efforts but is suddenly soliciting for Tsunami assistance. Although well intentioned, such organizations may not have the ability to quickly deliver aid to those in need.

2. Be wary of appeals that are long on emotion, but short on describing what the charity will do to address the needs of victims and their families. Also see if the charity's appeal explains what the charity intends to do with any excess contributions remaining after they have fully funded the disaster relief activities mentioned in solicitations.

3. As with all other disaster relief situations, most relief charities prefer financial contributions rather than donated goods. This enables them to purchase needed items near the disaster relief site(s) for easier distribution. The collection and delivery of inappropriate donated items can also clog transportation channels and delay more vital items in getting through to disaster victims.

4. If you contribute, do not give cash. Make a check or money order out to the name of the charitable organization, not to an individual collecting the donation.

5. If you decide to contribute online, find out more about the charity before making a contribution and be aware of red flags. For example, some charities imitate the name and style of a well-known organization in order to confuse people. Also, when clicking on the link to "donate," look at the organization's URL in the browser window. Exercise caution if the domain name is hidden, is not familiar to you, or is not the same as the one stated in the text of the link.

6. Watch out for excessive pressure for on-the-spot donations. Be wary of any request to send a "runner" to pick up your contribution.

7. Do not give your credit card number or other personal information to a telephone solicitor or in response to an email solicitation. Ask the caller or sender to provide you with written information on the charity's programs and finances.

8. Do not hesitate to ask for written information that describes the charity's program(s) and finances such as the charity's latest annual report and financial statements. Even newly created organizations should have some basic information available.

9. Be wary of charities that are reluctant to answer reasonable questions about their operations, finances and programs. Ask how much of your gift will be used for the activity mentioned in the appeal and how much will go toward other programs and administrative and fundraising costs.

10. To help ensure your contribution is tax deductible, the donation should be made to a U.S. based charitable organization that is tax exempt under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Go to IRS Publication 78 on www.irs.gov for a current list of all organizations eligible to receive contributions deductible as charitable gifts.

"It is also important to remember that if you are unable to contribute at this time, relief charities will welcome your donation next week and next month. Organizations will be addressing a variety of activities in the weeks to come, as the needs of relief victims change," Taylor advised.

Donors can obtain further advice on giving and access reports on national charities by visiting www.give.org, the website of the BBB Wise Giving Alliance. The national charity reports produced by the Alliance specify if the charity meets the Standards for Charity Accountability which address various charity governance, finances, fund raising and solicitations issues. Donors are also encouraged to inquire about relief organizations not currently on give.org so that the Alliance can identify additional charities that might be the subject of a future BBB Wise Giving Alliance report.

Well-intentioned efforts can also be misplaced. Local churches or other community organizations in your area may be organizing efforts to collect donated goods and items to help the Tsunami victims. As with all other disaster situations, relief charities prefer financial contributions rather than donated goods so they can purchase items and supplies that are needed. The collection and delivery of inappropriate items can clog airports and delivery channels and delay more vital items in getting through to disaster victims.

For those seeking a website to help identify established charities providing assistance in the areas impacted by the Tsunami, access www.interaction.org which is a Washington, DC based association of relief agencies.

Please let TheLocalBBB know about questionable solicitation efforts in your area so we can pass it onto the Wise Giving Alliance for review.

The BBB Wise Giving Alliance was formed through the merger of the National Charities Information Bureau and the Council of Better Business Bureaus' Foundation, which housed the Philanthropic Advisory Service. The Alliance produces reports on the most-asked-about national charities and specifies if they meet the BBB Standards for Charity Accountability. These Standards address, among other things, charity financial, governance, and fund raising issues.

For more information contact the BBB at 1-800-356-1007 or on the web at http://www.thelocalbbb.com

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