Haiti Support: Give Wisely, Do Your Research, Red Cross Official Says

Tomorrow, Robin Vergara, a South Kitsap resident, will board a plane bound for the Dominican Republic. There, Vergara, an emergency room nurse at Tacoma General Hospital, will meet with other Tacoma General doctors and nurses who have teamed up to provide medical care in Haiti. The group, which Robin said will operate under the umbrella of Destiny World Outreach of Texas, will spend a week in the earthquake-stricken country. According to Robin, Destiny World Outreach has been working in Haiti and so is able to provide her group with local contacts and transportation. She said the organization is helping teams like hers make week-long stints, which, back-to-back, will provide ongoing support without unduly taxing volunteers, who must take time out from their jobs and families.

I hope to catch up with Vergara after her week in Haiti. (Today she is running around taking care of last minute details.)

As we continue to report on Kitsap County residents and organizations involved in relief to Haiti, it bears repeating that potential donors should be fully informed about where they send their charitable dollars.

“I tell people to do their research online to find out how long the organization has existed and what they have been doing in the area,” said Janet Heath, Westsound director of the American Red Cross.

Web sites like charityguide.org, which Heath recommended, offer guidelines for choosing a charity. According to information on the Web site, the American Institute of Philanthropy provides a watchdog service to help donors understand how well their dollars are being spent. The AIP gives letter grades to nationally prominent charities (smaller charities may not be listed – that’s really where doing your homework comes in). A grade of B means the organization openly shares audited financial statements and income tax forms, spends less than $25 to raise $100 and allocates at least 75 percent of money raised towards charitable programs (not fund-raising and general administration).

The Better Business Bureau reports on charities based on its Charity Accountability Standards, which are listed on the Web site. The BBB also lists complaints it’s received about charities (absence of a charity on the complaint list doesn’t necessarily guarantee its worthiness).

Heath also recommends you review the organization’s 990 tax information form. Finally, she said, read as much as you can about the organization and talk to people you know about it.

If you visit the Westsound Seattle Red Cross, you’ll see a section called “Accountability” which includes links to the organization’s annual report along with other information made in the interest of full disclosure.

Heath encourages donors to consider that the relief effort in Haiti will be a long-term process.

Here is a list of tips for giving from the American Institute of Philanthropy (explained more fully on their Web site).
Know Your Charity
Find Out Where Your Dollars Go
Do Not Respond to Pressure
Keep Records of Your Donations
“Tax Exempt” Does Not Always Mean “Tax Deductible”
Do Not Be Misled by a Charity’s Familiar Name
Do Not Be Enticed by Emotional Appeals
Ask if the Charity is Registered by Federal, State or Local Authorities
Beware of Charities Offering Gifts

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