Philanthropy expert: ‘Do your homework’ before donating

A Coast Guard rescue team evacuates people from a neighborhood inundated by floodwaters from Tropical Storm Harvey on Monday, Aug. 28, 2017, in Houston, Texas. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Everyone’s heart goes out to those impacted by Harvey, but before you give to a charity you should check where your money is going.

24 Hour News 8 spoke to two local experts about what donors should do before they reach in their pockets.

“A lot of our local schools and churches are coordinating efforts and those are really great places to participate. I would look to our civic leaders who are signaling some of our broader coordinated efforts that are coming out of West Michigan,” said Matthew Downey, director of Nonprofit Services at Grand Valley State University’s Johnson Center for Philanthropy. “That would give me a lot of confidence as to where I might invest.”

Downey also recommended taking time to thoroughly look over an organization’s website. A few minutes could be the most telling research a donor does.

“Looking at the website is going to tell you some of their authenticity and what some of their programs are. For many of the West Michigan organizations participating in hurricane relief, they’re going to tell you specifically what part of it that they’re investing in that your contributions will go towards,” Downey said.

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24 Hour News 8 also spoke with the Better Business Bureau (BBB) of West Michigan’s CEO, Phil Catlett about utilizing their resources.

“Take your time and do your homework,” he said. “Just because someone on Craigslist or a GoFundMe site says that they want to help and they’re going to deliver truckloads of goods or money or food, whatever it is, doesn’t mean they have the capacity or the ability to deliver what they’re hoping to do.”

He suggests searching http://www.bbb.org for a business or organization and reviewing any complaints against them before getting involved.

“We look at their financials, determine whether or not the charities are actually delivering the goods they’re supposed to deliver,” Catlett said.

Another resource to think about, especially if you’re able to interpret a nonprofit’s 990 form, is GuideStar.org.

A user can create a free, basic account to search nonprofits around the country. All users need to do to sign up is provide an email address and create a password.