Australia’s wildfires: What to know before donating

World News

Firefighters drag a hose to battle a fire near Bendalong, Australia, Friday, Jan. 3, 2020. Navy ships plucked hundreds of people from beaches and tens of thousands were urged to flee before hot, windy weather worsens Australia’s devastating wildfires. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)

(WTAJ) – With reports of wildfires sweeping through Australia, many people are aiding to help any way they can. Help has come through donations, assistance for displaced families, wildlife and firefighters battling the blazes.

Scammers can also seize this opportunity to take advantage of others during these vulnerable times.

In addition, there are often campaigns set up by well-meaning individuals who may or may not be directly connected to the tragedy.

The Better Business Bureau is offering up their advice to donors who are looking to make the best-informed decisions.

“Your Better Business Bureau and BBB Wise Giving Alliance strongly encourage donors to research and contribute to experienced organizations that meet the 20 BBB Standards for Charity Accountability, particularly in the wake of disasters,” says Warren King, president of the Better Business Bureau of Western PA. 

Here are some tips from the BBB.

  • Investigate before you consider a crowdfunding donation. In the wake of a major disaster, thousands of crowdfunding postings quickly appear, which can include scams or poorly conceived fundraising projects. Some crowdfunding platforms do a better job of vetting postings and projects than others and they typically charge various processing fees that may reduce donation amounts. Review the crowdfunding site’s description of its terms and procedures and check to see who is behind the crowdfunding appeal to consider whether that person or group might legitimately represent the named charitable cause. See if the posting claims to help 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, rather than relying on a third party to carry out your giving intentions.
     
  • Determine 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 may be using pictures of victims without the permission of their families. As a result, you can’t assume the poster has an official connection. As a donor, it is up to you to approach with caution, especially after a disaster or tragedy.
     
  • Your contribution may not be deductible as a charitable gift. If a crowdfunding post or a charitable appeal is claiming to help a specific 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. However, 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 you can generally take a deduction. Keep in mind, 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.
     
  • Research Australian-based charities. If you considering donating to an Australian-based charity, check out 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. There are also local Australian fire service entities known as “brigades” that accept donations to carry out various services. If you wish to support such entities, visit an official Australian government link such as the following: NSW Rural Fire Service. Be cautious about appeals from those claiming to raise funds for Australian firefighters without any official connection to them.

Visit give.org for additional tips and to research national charities that are accepting funding to help address the Australian fires.

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