MILWAUKEE — As we hear news reports of the devastating fires in Australia that have destroyed about 18 million acres of land, many are quite moved to assist displaced families and wildlife, as well as for the brave firefighters battling the blazes.
To help donors make informed giving decisions, BBB Wise Giving Alliance offers the following advice.
Investigate before you consider a crowdfunding donation. In the wake of a major disaster like the Australian fires, thousands of crowdfunding postings quickly appear, which can include scams or poorly conceived fundraising projects. Plus, not all crowdfunding sites operate alike. Some crowdfunding platforms do a better job of vetting postings and projects than others, and also they typically charge various processing fees that might reduce donation amounts.
Also, review the crowdfunding site’s description of its terms and procedures. When crowdfunding platforms do employ safeguards against potential frauds, they generally announce that fact loudly to help encourage giving.
Check to see who is behind the crowdfunding appeal and consider whether that person or group might legitimately represent the named charitable cause. Also, see if the posting is claiming to be helping a specific individual/family/group or whether it claims to be passing on funds to a designated charity or charities.
If a charity is named, consider making a direct donation to that organization (after checking them out as explained below) rather than relying on a third party to carry out your giving intentions.
How funds will be used. Whether you donate to a crowdfunding request or directly to a charitable organization, vague descriptions of how the collected funds will be used should be a yellow caution light. For example, will the funds be used for firefighting activities, temporary housing for displaced families, food, medical expenses, reconstruction or other relief activities? Could donations be used for long-term recovery programs, or not?
Thoughtful requests for funding will identify genuine disaster needs and response abilities, and communicate clearly about intended donation uses and plans for funding distributions.
Don’t assume pictures are used with permission. Unfortunately, some crowdfunding postings might be using pictures of victims without the permission of their families. As a result, you cannot assume the poster has an official connection. Again, each site has different rules on what they allow. As a donor, it is up to you to approach with caution, especially after a disaster or tragedy.
One’s contribution might not be deductible as a charitable gift. If a crowdfunding posting or a charitable appeal is claiming to be helping a specific named individual or family, donors in the U.S. generally cannot take a federal income tax deduction, even if the individual or family is in need. See IRS Publication 526, page 6, for more information on this subject.
On the other hand, if you are giving to a charitable organization that is helping a group of needy individuals and you are not restricting your gift to a specific person, then generally you can take a deduction. Keep in mind, however, if the charity is not located in the U.S., in most cases a gift would not be deductible even though a charity is receiving the contribution.
Australian-based charities. If considering donating to an Australian-based charity, check the registry of the Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission. While the registration with this government agency does not mean the government is recommending or endorsing the charity, it does signify that the group has filed the appropriate paperwork with this agency.
The following charities located in Australia are raising funds to provide various types of assistance to people or wildlife. While the following five entities were not evaluated by the BBB Wise Giving Alliance, the American affiliates of these charities are BBB-accredited (i.e., meet the 20 BBB Standards for Charity Accountability.)
Australian Red Cross
Australian Salvation Army
Nature Conservancy Australia
St. Vincent de Paul Society in Australia
World Wildlife Fund Australia
United States-based charities. There are a number of U.S. based charities that are accepting funding to address the Australian fires. See the respective website links to find out more. The following list includes groups that are BBB Accredited (i.e., meet the 20 BBB Standards for Charity Accountability.)
American Red Cross (a BBB Accredited Charity)
Direct Relief (a BBB Accredited Charity)
Global Giving (a BBB Accredited Charity)
International Fund for Animal Welfare (a BBB Accredited Charity)
Save the Children (a BBB Accredited Charity)
Helping Australian firefighter organizations. Some donors also might have an interest in contributing to help the firefighters themselves. There are local Australian fire service entities known as “brigades” that do accept donations to carry out their various services.
If you wish to support such entities, visit an official Australian government link such as: NSW Rural Fire Service. Be cautious about appeals from those claiming to raise funds for Australian firefighters without any official connection to them.
Our strongest recommendation is to contribute to experienced organizations that meet the 20 BBB Standards for Charity Accountability, particularly in the wake of disasters.
Visit Give.org to access reports on these and other charities. Experienced relief organizations more likely are to provide quick and effective assistance. Newly established entities might be well-intentioned but might not have the skills and infrastructure to provide immediate help.
For an online version of this story or for more information or further inquiries, contact the Wisconsin BBB at www.bbb.org/wisconsin, (414) 847-6000 or 1-800-273-1002. Consumers also can find more information about how to protect themselves from scams by following the Wisconsin BBB on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.