November 18, 2013
On Sunday, November 17, 2013, a wave of strong storms brought damaging winds and tornadoes to the Midwest and beyond. States impacted by the storms include: Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and New York. As a result of the harsh storms, hundreds of thousands of people have been left without power and hundreds of homes and businesses have been destroyed. The worst damage was in Illinois where several people were killed.
We know the heart wrenching photos of the damage will inspire many people to want to help. At the moment, charities are assessing the situation to determine how best to provide assistance. Once they make their plans public, we will update this page with a list of charities responding. In the meantime, please read over the following Crisis Giving Tips to ensure your donations do the most good.
Designate Your Investment
Worried that your donation will go towards the charity's general operating fund or saved for a future crisis? This is an understandable concern. By designating your gift, you'll ensure that your donation will be used as you intended.
However, not every charity fundraising for this disaster offers donors a way to designate their gift and makes a promise that 100% of funds collected for this disaster will only be used for the relief and recovery efforts of the November 17, 2013 tornadoes. If the charity has clearly indicated to us, and on their website, that they are committed to using tornado restricted funds only for the relief and recovery efforts related to this disaster, then we have included them in the list to the right. Focus on this list if you want to ensure that your gift will only be used for this natural disaster.
And be sure when you make your donation, that you follow the charity's instructions for restricting your gift. Most charities with online giving portals offer a check box feature so that you can tell the organization how to spend your contribution. If you are mailing in a check, then write a note in the memo section of the check specifying that you want your gift spent entirely on the current crisis.
Some charities that are participating in the relief and recovery efforts are either (1) accepting designated gifts with the caveat that ‘excess’ funds may be used elsewhere or (2) are not accepting designated gifts and allowing donors to contribute to their relief work for any and all disasters. There is nothing wrong with those policies so long as donors are aware of them in advance of making a donation. In fact, we found that plenty of charities are disclosing this information on their sites where they are soliciting gifts for the Midwest storms. Charities that fall into this category include: AmeriCares, Samaritan's Purse, American Red Cross, Gleaning for the World, United Methodist Committee on Relief, Direct Relief, Church World Service, Kids in Need Foundation and Catholic Charities USA. If you plan to support one of these charities, then we encourage you to visit its website or contact it directly to find out how your donation will be used.
- Additionally, we found some charities that are seeking donations, but they haven't communicated their designation policy clearly on their websites. These charities include: Feed the Children and the Northern Illinois Food Bank. Again, if you'd like to support one of these charities, then we encourage you to visit its website or contact it directly to find out how your donation will be used.
- However, not every charity fundraising for this disaster offers donors a way to designate their gift and makes a promise that 100% of funds collected for this disaster will only be used for the relief and recovery efforts of the November 17, 2013 tornadoes. If the charity has clearly indicated to us, and on their website, that they are committed to using tornado restricted funds only for the relief and recovery efforts related to this disaster, then we have included them in the list to the right. Focus on this list if you want to ensure that your gift will only be used for this natural disaster.
Give To An Established Charity
Don't let an unscrupulous charity take advantage of your goodwill. Find a charity with a proven track record of success with dealing with this type of major natural disaster and/or that has a history of working in the U.S. Avoid brand new charities created specifically to deal with the tornadoes because some of them are usually scams and it is hard to know the good from the bad. Even well-meaning new organizations will not have the infrastructure and knowledge of the region to efficiently maximize your gift. If you do feel compelled to give to a new charity, be sure to get proof that the group is in fact a registered public charity with 501 (c) (3) status.
Do Not Send Supplies
Knowing that people are desperately in need of basic supplies like food, water and shelter, it is hard not to want to pack up and send a box of supplies. But this type of philanthropy is simply not practical or efficient. Even if your package could make it to an impacted area, it is usually the case that no one is set up to receive these goods, much less organize and distribute them to the victims. Furthermore, charities are often able to partner with companies to acquire large amounts of in-kind donations such as bottled water and new clothing. So, unless a well established charity specifically requests that you send supplies, instead of boxing up and sending your old clothing, have a garage sale and turn your used goods into cash and donate that to a worthy charity.
Consider The Nature Of The Charity’s Work
Not every charity responds to a disaster in the same way. Some provide medical assistance, some shelter, some food and water. Others will be more focused on either short term or long term rebuilding efforts. And some will just fundraise for other nonprofits. Think about what it is you want your philanthropic investment to accomplish and then take the time to find the charities doing that work. We recommend that you dedicate at least a portion of your donation to the longer term, since it is often the case that donations drop off just weeks after the disaster. This is often the time that critical rebuilding efforts begin and longer term donations can make a critical difference. At Charity Navigator we link to each charity’s website so that you can quickly learn more about their plans to help.
Be Inspired By Social Media, But Still Do Your Homework
Social networking tools like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and blogs are delivering heart-wrenching images and information about this disaster to our computers and phones. These often include pleas to donate. While these applications can be a powerful tool to inspire your desire to help, you should not blindly give via these vehicles. You must take the time to investigate the groups behind such pleas for help to ensure that it comes from a legitimate nonprofit.
Be Careful Of Email Solicitations
- Be Leery Of People That Contact You Online Claiming To Be A Victim – Unless you personally know someone in the impacted area, anyone alleging to be in this position is quite possibly part of a scam. Obviously, people affected by a large scale disaster are in no position to contact you directly for assistance.
- Delete Unsolicited Emails With Attachments - Never respond to unsolicited emails. Do not open any attachments to these emails even if they claim to contain pictures from the disaster. These attachments are probably viruses.
Seek Out The Charity’s Authorized Website
Criminals are likely to set up bogus sites to steal the identity and money of generous and unsuspecting individuals. We saw this after Hurricane Katrina when the FBI reported that 4,000 sites were created to do just that. So, if you plan to give online, be sure to find the charity’s legitimate site. You can safely give on Charity Navigator’s site via our partnership with Network for Good. Alternatively, we link to each charity’s authorized site so you can give there if you prefer.
Think Before You Text
So long as you do your homework – meaning that you’ve vetted the charity and made sure that you are using the proper texting instructions- then texting can be a great way to give. However, bear in mind that there may be additional costs to you to make such a gift. And it can take as much as 90 days for the charity to receive the funds.
Be wary of fundraisers who pressure you to make a contribution over the phone. Never divulge your credit card information to someone soliciting you via the phone. Instead, hang up, do your due diligence and give to a vetted charity directly. Read Charity Navigator's Guide to Handling Telephone Appeals
Do Not Expect Immediate Results, But Do Keep Tabs On What Your Donation Accomplishes
It takes time for charities to mobilize, to assess the problems that need to be addressed and to develop effective solutions. Donors need to be patient so charities will not feel pressured to plunge in and offer ineffective aid, simply to placate impatient donors. That doesn't mean donors shouldn't hold the charities accountable for delivering on their promises! Be sure to follow up with the charity in a few months to find out (a) how your donation was put to use and (b) if the organization needs additional support to complete the recovery effort.