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Be A Hurricane Harvey Helper

By David Aft

Hurricane Harvey has caused historic flooding. Thousands have been displaced. You can be a "helper." Photo credit: Houston Chronicle

Hurricane Harvey has caused historic flooding. Thousands have been displaced. You can be a "helper." Photo credit: Houston Chronicle

Our thoughts and prayers turn to our Gulf Coast neighbors in need after Hurricane Harvey made landfall near Corpus Christi and precipitated historic flooding in Houston and surrounding communities. As the late Fred Rogers urged us years ago, we should spend less time dwelling on the catastrophe and focus instead on the “helpers” among us—those who choose to brave the rising waters to save families trapped in homes, those who provide shelter to the displaced, and those who purchase and distribute food, water, and clothing to the victims of this tragedy. In fact, you may want to be one of the helpers. This is not a complete list, but we've thrown together a few ways you can help those affected by the storm and included useful hyperlinks.

MAKE A MONETARY DONATION
Monetary donations are more flexible and cause less of a strain on the charity in times of crisis. As a spokesman on television said last night, unlike material donations, cash involves no transportation costs, shipping delays, or customs fees. It also enables relief organizations to spend more time providing aid by spending less time managing goods.

The Red Cross depends on financial donations to help provide immediate relief. They have set up a way to donate to victims with a simple text. Text the word HARVEY to 90999 to make a $10 donation. You can also visit http://www.redcross.org/hp/harvey3

The United Way has also announced a way to text a donation: Text UWFLOOD to 41444 to donate to the United Way Flood Relief Fund

Donations to support The Salvation Army's Hurricane Harvey relief efforts can be made at helpsalvationarmy.org or by calling 1-800-SAL-ARMY.

The Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund set up by Houston's mayor, Sylvester Turner, and administered by the Greater Houston Community Foundation is another great way to provide aid.

The Houston Food Bank and the Food Bank of Corpus Christi are asking for donations.

Carter BloodCare covers hospitals in north, central and east Texas. To donate, call 877-571-1000 or text DONATE4LIFE to 444-999.

To help animals suffering from the disaster, visit the  Houston Humane Society or the San Antonio Humane Society.

The Texas Diaper Bank in San Antonio is asking for diapers and wipes, which can be mailed to 5415 Bandera Road, Suite 504, San Antonio, Texas 78238.

GIVE BLOOD
AABB, which coordinates a task force to manage blood collection efforts during disasters, put out a call on Sunday for blood donations in the aftermath of Harvey.

Those interested in donating blood may contact the following organizations:
American Red Cross: 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767), Blood Assurance: 785 Shugart Rd, Dalton, GA 30720, 706-226-7735, Armed Services Blood Program: 703-681-5979, or AABB: 301-907-6977.

OTHER ONLINE ONLY GROUPS TO CONSIDER
GoFundMe has created a page with all of its Harvey-related campaigns.

Airbnb is waiving service fees for those affected by the disaster and checking in between Aug. 23 and Sept. 1, and can guide users in creating a listing where their home is offered to victims free.

YouCaring has a fund-raising page set up by J. J. Watt of the Houston Texans with a goal of $1 million.

GlobalGiving's Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund supports local organizations by helping with "immediate needs for food, fuel, clean water, hygiene products and shelter.

You, too, can be a “helper.” As always, if you have a specific question about relief efforts or how you can make a difference, give me a call at the office at (706) 275-9117.

David Aft is the president of the Community Foundation of Northwest Georgia. He has worked in the nonprofit field for over twenty-five years and is a recognized resource and noted speaker on charitable enterprise, civics, fundraising strategy and community development.

A Warning to Donors

by David Aft

In my previous blog posts, I covered timing your charitable donations (when) and how to make the biggest impact with your gifts. Today’s blog post is essentially a warning to all donors.

We are bombarded with endless requests for charitable donations. We’re asked on the street, at home, at the neighbor’s cocktail party, by telephone, in the mail, via social media sites, and through personal email correspondence. The appeals are designed to tug at our hearts and make us believe our donations have the power to make or break an organization. In most instances, our donations will be used for good causes, but sadly, scammers and criminals occasionally ask for money under the guise of charity and doing good. They are savvy and smooth in their efforts to steal our money, and even the brightest among us can be misled and victimized.

Here are a few things all of us can do to prevent being victimized and ensure our generous donations are being used to make the world a better place.

Always check out unfamiliar organizations. If the organization is local, ask friends and family members about it. But if the organization isn’t local, go to the web and start searching. If you haven’t heard of a particular charity before, you may want to visit GuideStar (www.guidestar.org), which contains records from almost 2 million nonprofits registered with the IRS. The free component of GuideStar allows you to access an organization’s Form 990 and review the income, expenses, mission, and executive salaries. You may also want to visit the BBB Wise Giving Alliance (www.give.org), a group affiliated with the Council of Better Business Bureaus that evaluates hundreds of national charities and thousands of smaller, regional groups. And CharityWatch (www.charitywatch.org) rates most of the national organizations with a grading system from A to F. CharityWatch dives deep to determine how efficiently a charity will use a donation to fund its programs.

Watch out for copycats. Some questionable organizations use names that closely resemble those of well-established charitable organizations. For example, Make-a-Wish Foundation has raised millions of dollars to give sick and dying children a day where they don’t have to think about being sick, but Make-A-Wish Foundation’s success at raising money and doing good has gotten the attention of copycats and con men. They ask for money for nonexistent charities with similar names like Making Wishes Come True, Kid Wish USA, and Granting Kids Wishes.

Beware of false claims. If someone calls and thanks you for a pledge you don’t remember making, slow down and ask questions to determine if you actually made the pledge. And watch out for fraudulent invoices for pledges or donations.

Don’t give a donation over the phone unless you initiate the call. Organizations often call as we sit down with our family to eat dinner. We cringe but listen to the pitch. It is important to know that telephone solicitations are a favorite among scammers and criminals today, so you have to be very careful. Don’t ever give your bank account information or credit card information to a caller, because you really don’t know who you are talking to unless you initiate the call. If they become pushy, hang up.

Be careful when making a donation through a website portal. If you decide to make a pledge online, that’s fine, but if you decide to make an actual gift online, make sure that you see “https” at the beginning of the web address (URL). “Https” denotes that it is a secure link and your information will not be compromised. Also, take a few seconds and examine the entire web address to make sure the link is a legitimate donation processing site. For example, it probably wouldn’t be wise to type in your credit card information into a field at a site called, https://alx.234.girls.india.

Don’t click the link in email solicitations. We’ve all gotten email messages that look legitimate and ask us to click on a link. My advice—don’t click the link. If you want to give a gift to a particular organization, start from scratch. Look up the organization online, and make your donation either by sending a check through the mail, dropping off a check in person, or giving online via a safe link.

There are other precautions, but these are good starting tips. Again, be generous, but be thoughtful and smart with your generosity. And if you ever find yourself unsure about an organization and want a second opinion, give me a call and I’ll tell you what I think.

David Aft is the president of the Community Foundation of Northwest Georgia. He has worked in the nonprofit field for over twenty-five years and is a recognized resource and noted speaker on charitable enterprise, civics, fundraising strategy and community development.

HOW to Give

by David Aft

In my last blog, I covered timing your charitable gifts to make the greatest impact for the beneficiary organizations you’ve chosen to help. Today, my focus is on how to give—the best way to optimize your charitable contributions and get the most bang for your bucks. Here are a few notes to consider.

– Give larger donations to fewer organizations. It’s great to give $100 to ten organizations, but it may be smarter from a “charitable value” perspective to give $500 to two worthy organizations or one significant $1,000 contribution. Larger, well-thought-out donations will probably do more good than several smaller gifts. This makes for harder decisions on your part, but it is a reality.

– Consider making periodic payments (monthly, bimonthly, or quarterly). Based on my experience managing and assisting nonprofit organizations, I know that a steady flow of donations during the year helps the monthly cash flow and adds to the long-term sustainability and success of organizations. And face it—it’s easier on your pocketbook to make twelve monthly $100 donations to a charity than it is to write one big $1,200 check at the end of the year. In today’s world of easy online banking, it only takes a minute to setup a regular payment schedule directed to your favorite charitable groups. Set up your automatic payments in January, and be done with it.

– Use your employer’s payroll deduction program. Payroll deduction is another easy way to give. Money is automatically deducted from your check by your employer, pooled together, and sent to the organization(s) you’ve selected. Again, recurring payroll deductions allow you to spread out your charitable gifts over the course of a year, which makes your donation more manageable and helps keep a steady stream of cash going to the nonprofit of your choice. And did you know that hundreds of companies across the country match their employees’ contributions to qualified charities? Some match donations dollar for dollar, so a $500 gift becomes a $1,000 gift. Ask your human resources representative if your company offers charitable gift matching, and if so, find out what rules apply.

I consider my willingness and ability to “give back” an honor, a privilege, and a blessing, but it doesn’t stop with the generosity in my heart. Just like others, I seek value in my charitable giving decisions. I encourage all prospective donors to consider not just who they give to, but when they give and how they give. In my next blog post, I’ll address how to avoid scams in your charitable endeavors. Stay tuned.

David Aft is the president of the Community Foundation of Northwest Georgia. He has worked in the nonprofit field for over twenty-five years and is a recognized resource and noted speaker on charitable enterprise, civics, fundraising strategy and community development.

WHEN to Give

by David Aft

Every holiday season, I find myself in more than one conversation about charitable giving. Knowing I have dedicated my life to fostering both civic enterprise and promoting charitable giving, friends, family members, and business associates often corner me at holiday gatherings and ask candid questions about the legitimacy, effectiveness, and efficiency of dozens of local and global organizations on their radars.

A few weeks ago, when someone asked my advice about where he could donate some money to achieve the greatest impact, I shared a short list of groups I have worked with over the years—each with impressive records in impact and accountability. And then I paused and went a step further.

I told him that he could increase the relative value of his gift by waiting a month or two to make it. Let me explain.

For most people, the decision of which organizations to give to often trumps when to give and even, how to give. My argument is that all three of these decision factors are equal in importance.

Today, I will focus on the when part of the equation.

Most donors are “value driven”—they want the best return on their investment—and relatively speaking, their contribution could possibly hold more “charitable value” to an organization in the leaner months following the holiday season, when less dollars are circulating through the organization.

Many people are filled with the giving spirit in December, and they make a few year-end donations to help others, and perhaps, because they are looking for a few more tax deductions—not that there is anything wrong with that. As a result, many organizations are “financially fatter” at the close of the year than they are in the following springtime. So again, the aptly described “season of giving” may not always be the time when charities and the important causes they champion need our help the most.

It brings me great pleasure to be able to give back, but like other folks, I want to give back with great value and confidence. I encourage all prospective donors to consider not just who they give to, but when they give, because the timing of our charitable contributions matters.

In my next blog post, I’ll share a few thoughts about the different ways donors approach their giving, with an eye for making large charitable gifts manageable. Stay tuned.

David Aft is the president of the Community Foundation of Northwest Georgia. He has worked in the nonprofit field for over twenty-five years and is a recognized resource and noted speaker on charitable enterprise, civics, fundraising strategy and community development