(The author is a Reuters contributor. The opinions expressed are his own.)
By Mitch Lipka
Oct 31 (Reuters) - Many charities are immersed in the fight to control the Ebola epidemic, but so far the donors have not come forward en masse - although scams already are emerging.
For those ready to dig into their pockets, here are four tips to make an impact with your gift.
SORT THE LISTS
You can find comprehensive lists of charities fighting Ebola from organizations that vet nonprofits like Guidestar (Guidestar.org), Charity Navigator (CharityNavigator.org), and the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance (Give.org).
These lists can be overwhelming. Charity Navigator, for instance, identifies 45 charities with top accountability ratings aiding in the fight against Ebola and also helping victims.
Doctors Without Borders, which has been extremely visible throughout the outbreak that has claimed nearly 5,000 lives, tops most lists.
The organization, also known as Medecins Sans Frontieres, announced it is budgeting $64 million for its work fighting Ebola. It has raised at least $35 million in private donations and secured $25 million in institutional funding. The group operates six Ebola case management centers, with about 600 beds that are in isolation. It has treated 3,200 confirmed Ebola cases.
Also among those recommended by Charity Navigator are Pennsylvania-based Brother's Brother Foundation (which distributes medical supplies), the Missouri-based humanitarian organization Convoy of Hope, and some better-known charities including the United States Fund for UNICEF, Oxfam America and Save the Children.
While donors want to know their donation is going for a specific purpose, such as helping victims in a specific country, Ken Berger, chief executive officer of Charity Navigator, says that's not always the ideal way to go.
It's best to give to an organization whose overall mission you trust and allow the group to decide where the money can be used, Berger says. Saying you only want the cash to go for a certain medication, for instance, could hamstring an organization that already has an abundant supply of the drug but needs cash for other purposes.
Some noteworthy organizations include the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has pledged $50 million, committing the first $12 million to the World Health Organization, the U.S. Fund for UNICEF and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Another option is the CDC Foundation, which was created by Congress as a non-profit that raises money in support of the CDC. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife donated $25 million to the foundation.
DONATE YOUR VACATION TIME
If you don't have cash to spare, you can now give away your unused vacation time. The Internal Revenue Service this week added to the mix of donation options specifically related to the Ebola outbreak by allowing American workers to donate vacation, sick time or personal leave.
Under the IRS guidelines, employees give vacation hours back to their employer who converts those hours into cash. Donating the funds to tax-exempt organizations working to help Ebola victims in Guinea, Liberia or Sierra Leone qualifies for a tax break. And the employees don't have the money counted as income, under this arrangement, which has been used for previous natural disasters.
BEWARE OF SCAMMERS
The biggest trouble spots for potential donors are crowdfunding sites along with social media because they can appear legitimate but lack verification.
"Anybody can put up a crowdfunding site and promise to do something," Wise Giving Alliance Chief Operating Officer Bennett Weiner says.
Hundreds of such sites already exist, such as one that purported to benefit a Dallas nurse who had been infected. It was removed after her family members objected.
Tips from the Federal Trade Commission to avoid Ebola-related fund-raising scams include:
* Avoid charities that appear to have "sprung up overnight in connection with current events."
* Be wary of charities whose websites or names are similar to those of established charities.
* If you receive a call from a solicitor, and you're interested, ask who they work for and the percentage of the donation that goes to both the fund-raising firm and the charity. Lack of a clear, direct answer is a red flag.
* Do not send cash. You won't know the money went where it was supposed to and you won't have a record. (Follow us @ReutersMoney or at http://www.reuters.com/finance/personal-finance; Editing by Phil Berlowitz)
Find out more about Doctors Without Borders' efforts to combat Ebola and how you can get involved here. Support UNICEF's efforts to combat Ebola through the fundraising widget below or by calling 1-800-FOR-KIDS.