Want to help? An overview of what’s needed, what’s not.
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.
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 contact the local United Way and the local Community Foundation — in this case Houston’s.
To donate to the United Way of Greater Houston, visit unitedwayhouston.org/ donate.
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.”
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. (You can text the word HARVEY to 90999 to make a $10 donation to give to the American Red Cross.)
Apple users in the U.S. can also donate to the Red Cross through the company’s iTunes and app stores. Amounts range from $5 to $200, but 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.
For example, the Central Texas Food Bank, part of a larger network of Texas food banks called Feeding Texas, accepts “sustaining” donations that bill monthly, quarterly or annually. For more information, visit centraltexasfoodbank.org/get-involved.
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.
GoFundMe in partnership with the Direct Impact Fund is taking Hurricane Harvey relief donations. Tax-deductible donations will go directly to support individuals with verified campaigns. For more information, visit gofundme.com/raise-funds/ hurricane-harvey.
Remember that donations are tax-deductible only if they go to a registered nonprofit or charity. Otherwise, they are generally considered gifts.
Hold off on goods
Donating food, clothing and household items can complicate and even hinder relief efforts, experts say. After Superstorm Sandy in 2012, for example, reports cited 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. For example, the Austin Disaster Relief Network’s Hope Family Thrift Store’s receiving dock, 1122 E. 51st St., will be open to receive survivor donations 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday.
Delivery trucks will distribute goods to local shelters in the Austin area as needs dictate.
Needed items include new undergarments and socks of all sizes, toiletries, cleanup supplies and black trash bags, inflatable mattresses, hand sanitizer and box fans. The network — which has set up a Harvey relief fund here, adrn.org/ give — says that other clothing is not needed.
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. You can donate online at texasdiaperbank. org and designate funds to disaster relief.
If the lasting commitment of volunteering appeals, various agencies could use the help.
Salvation Army Austin volunteers have cooked and served more than 2,000 meals at the shelters in Victoria and Cuero and were in Seadrift on Tuesday, where there is no electricity and there is a boil-water notice. The mobile catering truck is able to deliver meals into neighborhoods where people are assessing damage and beginning the cleanup to their properties.
For more information on donating or volunteer, visit salvationarmyaustin.org/ disaster-services.
The Red Cross reports that it depends on volunteers for 90 percent of the group’s humanitarian work. Volunteers can sign up at redcross.org/volunteer and call 800-928-4271 for more information.
Krista Harmon (left) and Natalie Kifer carry items Monday at the Circle C Community Center in South Austin that have been donated to victims of Hurricane Harvey.