Charities are stepping up their donation requests in the wake of Harvey, a severe, Category 4 hurricane that has devastated South Texas and could still lead to worse flooding in the days ahead.
But this is not an excuse to clean out your closet. Money is the quickest, most effective contribution most people can make 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. You can find information on a charity's expenses, assets and revenue, as well as its programs.
Stacy Palmer, editor of The Chronicle of Philanthropy, also suggests looking at a charity's website for information on how it will use donations. And look 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. It's easy, and it might feel as though it's the quickest way to get money to a charity.
But Palmer says that's not the case, as charities have to wait for the phone companies to release the money.
The quickest way to give is to 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. Apple users in the U.S. can also donate to the American Red Cross through the company's iTunes and app stores. Amounts range from $5 to $200, and you can't use store credit.
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 monthly 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. After Superstorm Sandy in 2012, for example, reportscited relief agencies not knowing what to do with the piles of clothing and other unsolicited items pouring in.
The U.S. Center for Disaster Information says such donations "require transportation — which is expensive and logistically complicated — and a pre-identified recipient on the ground who will receive the shipment, pay customs and other fees, sort and distribute the items."
Unsolicited goods, the agency says , 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.
CONSIDER SPECIAL NEEDS
Seniors, the disabled, children and even pets are particularly vulnerable during disasters. Consider donating to charities that focus on addressing their needs.
The Texas Diaper Bank, for example, 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.