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Make Your Hurricane Relief Donation Count

Hurricane Harvey shown from the International Space Station (abcnews.com)

“It is more difficult to give money away intelligently than to earn it in the first place.” – Andrew Carnegie

Americans, as always, are still responding generously to support the victims of Hurricane Harvey and are now preparing to help those in the path of Hurricane Irma. 

Yet, in the back of many minds is the nagging question, “Will my donation be well spent by the organization that receives it?” Unfortunately, as we know from past disasters, the answer is not always yes.

Medical Research Charities’ focus is finding treatments and cures for diseases, not disaster relief. However, the principles we use in evaluating our partner charities can be applied here as well. We put our charities under a microscope, so you don’t have to. This means we analyze our charities to make sure donors’ money ends up in the right hands.

Most tax-exempt charitable nonprofits have an obligation to file an annual information return with the IRS (Form 990). This must be public, and if it’s not available on the organization’s website, you may be able to access it by searching for the organization on Guidestar or Charity Navigator.

So, before deciding which organizations to support, here are some questions you should ask in order to make an informed and educated decision:

  1. What will they do with the money you donate? What programs will you help fund? And, what percent of the organization’s annual revenue is devoted to the programs they run, the services they provide or the goods they distribute? (expenses page of IRS form 990)
  2. What percentage of the organization’s revenue is spent on fundraising? Some charities spend more on fundraising than on programs. Where do you really want your money to go?
  3. What is the size of the organization? What is the total budget? Is the focus local, regional or national?
  4. Are the salaries appropriate? The skills and experience required to run a large, complex organization are different than those needed to run a small local organization. Salaries should reflect that.

Finally, how easy is it to find this information about the organization you’re considering supporting? Some charities are very transparent, making much of this readily available. Others, not so much.

So, next time you’re thinking of donating to an organization, put it under your own microscope and dig a little deeper.

Be generous, but give intelligently.