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Advice for Donating to the Japan Disaster

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To assist donors in making wise charitable giving choices in helping with the relief efforts in Japan, we, at Charity Navigator, offer these five main tips:

  1. Avoid newly formed charities: The disaster in Japan is of epic proportions. It will be a challenge for even long-established charities with years of experience to provide assistance and help rebuild. There is little chance that a brand new charity, even one with the best of intentions, will be efficient and effective.
  2. Send money, not supplies: In a disaster situation, to help victims quickly and effectively, cash is King. So many of us want to do something tangible. Our impulse is to box up used clothing or buy new supplies and ship it to the victims. But, even if you could mail such items, it is unlikely at best that there is someone waiting in Japan to receive your goods or direct them to those in need. This was evident during Haiti when there were instances of supplies sitting in piles on airport runways and eventually being discarded. In fact, this is precisely why charities play an important part in disaster support. They have the capability to secure what is most needed through in-kind donations from corporations on the scale that’s needed in Japan, ship them to the region and see them properly distributed. So, if you really want to do something with things you no longer need, consider having a garage sale and turning them into cash which you can then donate to a charity.
  3. Beware of solicitations: Do not wait for the charity to contact you. Be proactive in identifying great charities that are worthy of your hard earned money. If a charity calls, hang up. If you receive an email from a charity that you didn’t sign up to receive, then delete it. Do not click through on links in Facebook and other social media applications. Do not give cash to someone on the street. And above all, do not respond to emails from people claiming to be victims.
  4. Research your charity’s website: During Hurricane Katrina, criminals established more than 4,000 websites to steal generous and unsuspecting donors’ personal information and money. Take the time to find the charity’s legitimate website. At Charity Navigator we link to each verified charity’s site so that you can quickly go there to donate online.
  5. Keep tabs on your donation: It is so important that you do a little bit of research on the front end. It may be months or years before we know precisely how our donations made a difference in Japan. However, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t hold the charity you donate to accountable. You should check back with the charity in the coming months and expect to find progress reports to see how your donation was utilized. The best nonprofits don’t just tell stories on their websites but provide evidence of their overall effectiveness and results in helping out in a disaster. The best charities will openly admit the challenges and disappointments they faced as well as the accomplishments they achieved helping the victims in Japan.

It has been noted that donors aren’t giving as rapidly as they did after Haiti. We believe a good part of this can be attributed to the fact that Japan is a more developed nation and some question their need for financial support. However, governments alone can not address the historic crisis that is currently facing the Japanese people. Charities provide a vital role in this type of emergency that requires your charitable support for them to be able to act quickly and effectively.

Some have pointed out that you should not restrict your donation to only help in the Japan relief effort. They argue, and we agree, that it is better not to hamstring charities by designating your gift. If you trust the charity, then allow it the flexibility to spend your donation as best it can --- which in the end may mean using excess funds for the charity’s work in other parts of the world. However given the horrible and widespread suffering of the Japanese people, we suspect that most of the charities engaged in this effort will need every donation they can get.

In conclusion, if you follow these tips for giving and do a little research before you donate, you will find those charities you are looking for and you’ll significantly minimize your chances of being scammed in helping now and whenever a disaster strikes.

Charity Navigator, America’s largest and most-utilized charity evaluator, is a web site that provides a search engine where you can find ratings on the performance of thousands of charities, as well as tips, articles and lots of other guidance to help you make wise charitable giving decisions.