PENSACOLA — The Better Business Bureau and BBB Wise Giving Alliance are advising people to help as much as they can in Hurricane Harvey relief efforts, but to do so with caution and make sure their donations get to the people who need them most.

“The devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey prompts us to do what we can to help as soon as possible,” said H. Art Taylor, president and CEO of BBB Wise Giving Alliance, “but donors need to be aware of some key cautions so that their generosity will get to those in need quickly.”

BBBs are already seeing crowd funding appeals of a dubious nature, and in the days ahead expect to see “storm chasers” looking to make a quick buck off of clean-up efforts. Consumers can report suspected scams to BBB Scam Tracker (bbb.org/scamtracker) or the Texas Attorney General’s hotline (800-621-0508 or consumeremergency@nag.texas.gov).

BBB Wise Giving Alliance suggests that donors keep the following tips in mind to help avoid questionable appeals for support:


Verify the trustworthiness of soliciting relief organizations by visiting Give.org to access free reports that specify if the charity meets the 20 BBB Standards for Charity Accountability.
See if the charity has an on-the-ground presence in the impacted areas. Unless the charity already has staff in the affected areas, it may be difficult to bring in new aid workers to provide assistance quickly. See if the charity’s website clearly describes what the charity can do to address immediate needs.
Find out if the charity is providing direct aid or raising money for other groups. Some charities may be raising money to pass along to relief organizations. If so, you may want to give directly to those that have a presence in the region. Or, at a minimum, check out the ultimate recipients of these donations to see whether they are equipped to provide aid effectively.
Be cautious about gifts of clothing, food or other in-kind donations. In-kind drives for food and clothing, while well intentioned, may not necessarily be the quickest way to help those in need — unless the organization has the staff and infrastructure to distribute such aid properly. Ask the charity about its transportation and distribution plans. Be wary of those who are not experienced in disaster relief assistance.
Understand crowd funding. Keep in mind that some crowd funding sites do very little vetting of individuals who decide to post for assistance after a disaster, and it is often difficult for donors to verify the trustworthiness of crowd funding requests for support. If you decide to contribute via crowd funding, it is probably best to give to people you personally know who have posted requests for assistance.
Understand the disaster relief phases. Remember that every disaster has several phases — rescue, emergency relief, and recovery. Each part relies on public support and continuing funding for success. The need for donations doesn’t stop when the headlines do.