The Tennessean published this op-ed Sept. 4, 2017. The tips referenced below apply to Tennesseans who want to assist victims of any hurricane or natural disaster.
The images are heartbreaking. For the last week, we’ve all seen stories coming out of Houston and the rest of the Gulf Coast showing the catastrophic mess Hurricane Harvey is leaving behind.
As I write this, rescues are still underway. In fact, first responders and volunteers from Tennessee are in the Lone Star state offering their service to help others.
I know the great people of Tennessee will not sit back and watch this disaster unfold without doing something. It’s in our nature. For many that means donating to help victims who are now left homeless in the wake of historic flooding and destruction as Harvey tracks north.
But I urge Tennesseans to use caution before writing a check or clicking ‘send.’ There are people who make a living preying on others’ generosity by swooping in to take advantage during catastrophic events. One of the best defenses against this is what you can do before handing over your hard-earned dollars.
In Tennessee, with a few exceptions, charitable organizations are required to register with the Division of Charitable Solicitations, Fantasy Sports and Gaming. They must file annual financial reports. Many other states have similar reporting requirements.
As more donations are accepted online with just a text or tap on your smartphone here are some key tips to remember:
- If a nonprofit asks you for a contribution, check to see if it's registered with the Division of Charitable Solicitations, Fantasy Sports and Gaming.
- If you are asked for a donation via text or email, verify it is directly from the charity or nonprofit.
- Do your own research and don't assume a social media or blog recommendation has been approved by the nonprofit.
- If you give through an app or website, ask if it is going directly to the organization.
- Avoid giving cash. Always ask for a receipt and if your contribution is tax deductible.
Taking time to learn about a charity can reveal how much of your dollars are used for administrative costs or actually provide services for the needy.
If a charity hasn't registered in a state where it's required to do so, then that should raise a red flag for potential donors. If you get vague or unsatisfactory answers, you need to carefully consider whether your money might be better spent elsewhere.
A lot of information can be found on our website: sos.tn.gov/charitable. We also welcome Tennesseans to call us at 1-800-861-7393. There are also nonprofit organizations such as the Better Business Bureau, Charity Navigator, Charity Watch and GuideStar that can be useful resources.
When tragedy strikes, we should help victims as quickly as possible. However, by taking the time to do a little research before giving to a charity, donors could prevent their money from falling into the wrong hands.
And that, in turn, would help ensure that the truly needy get the aid and comfort they deserve.
The months ahead will be hard for Texans but, like Tennesseans, they are tough. They will get through it with help from here in Tennessee and around the country.