As the death toll is now feared to top 10,000 in the Philippines due to Typhoon Haiyan, opportunities for philanthropic giving are abundant. But there are at least three things to keep in mind before giving financially after a disaster, according to charity watchdog site Charity Navigator.
A number of phony charities can pop up after natural disasters, as fraud can be directed at multiple targets: scamming victims, donors or charities themselves. The Department of Justice established The National Center for Disaster Fraud in 2005 to investigate, prosecute and deter fraud related to federal disaster relief programs following Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma.
After superstorm Sandy, one scammer was accused of defrauding charities and insurers for $87,000.
The first thing to keep in mind, says Charity Navigator, is to give to an established charity.
"Find a charity with proven track record of success when dealing with these types of disasters," said Matthew Viola, senior program analyst with Charity Navigator, which rates nonprofits' financial health and management practices.
Charity Navigator has developed a list of established charities that are participating in relief efforts in the Philippines. The list, first posted on Friday, is changing daily, Viola says.
Read More: How to Help After Typhoon Haiyan
You can ask the organization for a copy of their Form 990, an informational tax return that charities file annually with the IRS. Nonprofits are required to provide it to anyone requesting a copy. Charity Navigator's ratings look at how much a nonprofit's CEO is paid and other issues of transparency.
Don't be fooled into thinking that a charity is legitimate just because a celebrity is a spokesperson. Last year, Mary J. Blige's Foundation for Advancement of Women Now was sued by TD Bank for a loan that had not been fully repaid. The singer took full responsibility for her nonprofit's troubles, telling TMZ she "didn't have the right people in the right places doing the right things."
Second, Viola suggests donors avoid unsolicited telemarketers.
"You shouldn't give money over the phone when someone is asking for support after a disaster. You don't really know where it's going or how much the telemarketer is keeping," he said.
Third, you should consider designating your donation to a specific effort, so instead of giving generally to a nonprofit, you can ask that your donation be directed to disaster relief after Typhoon Haiyan, or whatever cause that concerns you.
"This is something that a lot of charities will allow you to do. Instead of a general contribution fund, you're assured it's not going to sit there for a future crisis or pay for something else," Viola said.
Consumer and charity watchdog sites like the Better Business Bureau and GuideStar list nonprofits' official web addresses, tax forms and financial data. The BBB rates them based on standards of accountability, including the structure of the board of directors and the transparency of financial data.
American Red Cross, Americares, Catholic Relief Services, and Convoy of Hope are among the charities recommended by Charity Navigator for the Philippines relief effort.