BBB shares important information for donating to wildfire victims

Sidney James Mountain Lodge in Gatlinburg, Tennessee (Credit: Ashley Biggens via WATE ReportIt!)
Sidney James Mountain Lodge in Gatlinburg, Tennessee (Credit: Ashley Biggens via WATE ReportIt!)

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCT) – The Better Business Bureau serving Eastern North Carolina is sharing important information for those wishing to donate to wildfire victims in North Carolina and Tennessee.

The BBB cautions donors about potential red flags in fundraising to help wildfire victims and their families.

“With the wildfires being so close to home and the devastation unfathomable, the response of people wanting to help victims has been inspiring” said Mallory Wojciechowski, President & CEO, BBB serving Eastern NC. “We want to make sure people who do want to help are sending donations where they belong and not into the hands of scammers who are taking advantage of the situation.”

BBB Wise Giving Alliance, the charity arm of BBB, urges donors to give thoughtfully and avoid those seeking to take advantage of the generosity of others. Here are “Ten Tips for Giving with Confidence” –

1. Thoughtful Giving

Take the time to check out the charity to avoid wasting your generosity by donating to a questionable or poorly managed effort. The first request for a donation may not be the best choice. Be proactive and find trusted charities that are providing assistance.

2. State Government Registration

About 40 of the 50 states require charities to register with a state government agency before they solicit for charitable gifts. If the charity is not registered, that may be a significant red flag. In the state of North Carolina, charities must be registered with the NC Secretary of State’s office.

3. Respecting Victims and Their Families

Organizations raising funds should get permission from the families to use either the names of the victims and/or any photographs of them. Some charities raising funds for the Colorado movie theater victims did not do this and were the subject of criticism from victims’ families.

4. How Will Donations Be Used?

Watch out for vague appeals that don’t identify the intended use of funds. For example, how will the donations help victims’ families? Also, unless told otherwise, donors will assume that funds collected quickly in the wake of a tragedy will be spent just as quickly. See if the appeal identifies when the collected funds will be used.

5. What if a Family Sets Up Its Own Assistance Fund?

Some families may decide to set up their own assistance funds. Be mindful that such funds may not be set up as charities. Also, make sure that collected monies are received and administered by a third party such as a bank, CPA or lawyer. This will help provide oversight and ensure the collected funds are used appropriately (e.g., paying for funeral costs, counseling, and other tragedy-related needs.).

6. Advocacy Organizations

Tragedies that involve a certain issue, such as wildfire, can also generate requests from a variety of advocacy organizations. Donors can support these efforts as well, but note that some of these advocacy groups are not tax exempt as charities. Also, watch out for newly created advocacy groups that will be difficult to check out.

7. Online Cautions

Never click on links to charities on unfamiliar websites, or in texts or emails. These may take you to a look-alike website where you will be asked to provide personal financial information or to click on something that downloads harmful malware into your computer. Don’t assume that charity recommendations on Facebook, blogs or other social media have already been vetted.

8. Financial Transparency

After funds are raised for a tragedy, it is even more important for organizations to provide an accounting of how funds were spent. Transparent organizations will post this information on their websites so that anyone can find out and not have to wait until the audited financial statements are available sometime in the future.

9. Newly Created or Established Organizations

This is a personal giving choice, but an established charity will more likely have the experience to quickly address the circumstances and have a track record that can be evaluated. A newly formed organization may be well-meaning but will be difficult to check out and may not be well managed.

10. Tax Deductibility

Not all organizations collecting funds to assist this tragedy are tax exempt as charities under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Donors can support these other entities, but keep this in mind if they want to take a deduction for federal income tax purposes. In addition, contributions that are donor-restricted to help a specific individual/family are not deductible as charitable donations, even if the recipient organization is a charity.

For more information you can trust visit, bbb.org and for more information on giving wisely, visit, visit give.org.

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