4 tips on figuring out best ways you can donate to earthquake relief, other charities

By Michelle Chapman, AP
Thursday, March 4, 2010

Smart Spending: Tips for donating effectively

NEW YORK — No sooner had the shock of Haiti’s earthquake passed than Chile was struck. As the repercussions of both disasters continue, urgent need remains in those countries and around the world for charitable contributions.

But it is hard to know whether donating your time, money, expertise or something else will make the biggest difference.

Here’s how to figure out where and how you can donate most effectively.

— DO YOUR HOMEWORK: Making a donation to a charitable organization starts with finding reputable recipients. Check out groups at Charitynavigator.org or Guidestar.org, which rate U.S. charities and nonprofits by their category of work, their financial health, how efficiently they raise money, how effectively they work and other criteria.

— DIGGING IN: Ask critical questions to figure out which organization is the right fit for you. Mark Shriver, managing director of U.S. Programs for Save the Children, suggests seeking a charity that spends donations it receives with a minimum of overhead. The group also should be able to provide specific information on progress that has resulted directly from its work, he says. Compare that to the kind of impact you hope to have.

— FINANCIAL AID VS. SUPPLIES: While a variety of donations is always appreciated, many charities say money works best. “Monetary donations provide the greatest amount of flexibility,” says Patricia Hvidston, senior vice president of development and communications for Catholic Charities USA.

Lauri Rhinehart, head of the American Red Cross’ disaster fundraising, says donating money also may get goods to the target location faster. “Financial contributions allow our relief workers to purchase items as close to the disaster site as possible, minimizing the costs involved in transporting goods,” Rhinehart explains.

Caryl Stern, president of the U.S. Fund for UNICEF, adds that it is easier to coordinate gifts such as vaccines and school supplies with corporations, because they can ship things in bulk and plan well in advance. Individual donations of goods can be harder to manage because their timing and contents are less predictable. In-kind donations also can burden the group with figuring out how and where to store the goods and how to ship them, Stern says.

Mark Crozet, senior vice president of development for Habitat for Humanity International, says corporate gifts of items like refrigerators and window blinds can lower costs and help make the houses his group builds more affordable.

— VOLUNTEER: If you have more time than money, ask what are the biggest needs of the organization you want to work with. Some groups need help raising funds, others are looking for individuals to educate people at home about their mission, others need help abroad. Some need very specific assistance — experienced marketing or advertising professionals, for example — so your job skills may be what they’ll want most.

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