Want to help? Local and national charities are asking for donations as Hurricane Harvey pounded Texas and Louisiana, leaving countless residents — and pets — displaced from their homes. The recovery will be long and expensive.
While the urge to donate clothes and other supplies is natural, money is the best way to contribute during times of disaster, charities and philanthropy experts say. And donating directly through a website gets money to a charity faster than a text donation, even though the text might seem easier.
Here’s how to make sure you are giving in a way that matters the most.
GIVE TO ESTABLISHED RELIEF AGENCIES
GuideStar’s website has a database that lets you vet charities .
Stacy Palmer, editor of The Chronicle of Philanthropy, also suggests looking through local news reports for information on a charity’s work, or contacting the local United Way and the local Community Foundation — in this case Houston’s.
It’s up to you whether to go with a local charity that might know the area better, or a national charity that has wider reach. Palmer says “both kinds of organizations have their place right now.”
TEXTING TO GIVE?
It might be tempting to make a donation through text and have the phone company charge it on your phone bill. But Palmer says charities have to wait for phone companies to release the money. It’s quicker if you go to the charity’s website and donate directly, using a credit or debit card.
That said, relief agencies will need money beyond first few days or even weeks, so if the ease of text donations appeals to you, tap away. To donate $10 to the Red Cross via text, send a text message saying “REDCROSS” to the number 90999.
Apple users in the U.S. can also donate to the American Red Cross through the company’s iTunes and app stores.
Donations often pour in immediately after disaster strikes but peter out during the long recovery process. While there are a lot of immediate needs, Palmer says, “charities are going to need support on the long haul.”
Consider saving some of your money so you can donate again in a few weeks or months. Better yet, set up a recurring donation to support your chosen charity over time.
Some charities will say when they have raised enough for a particular disaster and use any extra money for their general fund, Palmer says. This isn’t bad.
“One of the things this disaster shows is that it’s important to have resilience,” she says. “It’s smart to just give and say that it can be used wherever it’s most needed.”
Group fundraising services such as GoFundMe let people raise money for friends, families, neighbors or themselves — as well as for charity. As always, do your homework before giving to a stranger or cause online.
GoFundMe has a special page for Hurricane Harvey pleas for charities, individuals and families. GlobalGiving, a crowdfunding site for charities, is trying to raise $2 million for local relief and recovery efforts.
Remember that donations are tax-deductible only if they go to a registered non-profit or charity. Otherwise, they are generally considered gifts.
HOLD OFF ON MATERIAL DONATIONS
Donating food, clothing and household items can complicate and even hinder relief efforts, experts say. The U.S. Center for Disaster Information says unsolicited goods are “never required in early stages of response, and they compete with priority relief items for transportation and storage.”
It doesn’t mean there will never be a time or place for such donations — check with relief agencies as time passes. And a few charities have announced immediate needs for material donations; the Houston Humane Society has set up an Amazon wish list for the most needed items.
Consider volunteering or opening your homes to displaced families and emergency workers. Airbnb is waiving service fees and a requirement that hosts charge at least $10 a night; free accommodations are permitted in selected area.
Facebook’s “Community Help” feature lets people offer and ask for help, such as food, supplies, shelter and rides. To browse what people are asking for, go the “explore” tab on your Facebook site or on the mobile app. Then, click on “Safety Check,” where you will see a section for Hurricane Harvey . On Friday afternoon, people were asking for everything from volunteers to shelter, baby supplies and food.
CONSIDER SPECIAL NEEDS
Consider charities that focus on vulnerable populations, such as seniors, the disabled, children and even pets.
The Texas Diaper Bank says diapers (whether for babies or adults) are not provided by disaster relief agencies. Again, these charities need money — not boxes of diapers you picked up at Costco.
Save The Children is setting up “child-friendly spaces” inside shelters to give kids a safe area to play, get support from trained experts and “get a sense of normalcy” during disasters, spokeswoman Jordyn Linsk said. The organization is also distributing infant and toddler supplies.
Portlight Strategies helps people with disabilities, older adults and their families recover after disasters.
To help animals, check the San Antonio Humane Society, which has set up an emergency fund for pets and strays, or the Houston Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals . And the Houston Humane Society needs money, too.
Local charities such as the Houston Food Bank are also asking for help.
RELIGIOUS AND HUMANITARIAN GROUPS
Some of the religious organizations are “some of the strongest relief groups,” Palmer says.
Those accepting donations include Catholic Charities USA, International Orthodox Christian Charities , World Vision , Islamic Relief USA , the Jewish Federations of North America and Tzu Chi USA , a humanitarian organization with Buddhist roots.