How to research charities when donating for Harvey, Irma

It's important to know that the charity you are giving to is legitimate.

GRAND RAPIDS,. MICH, - In the midst of Hurricane Irma and with Harvey's damage still fresh, a lot of charities are asking for donations. But there are specific research methods people should take before pledging any money to an organization, said Catherine Rogg, president of the Association of Fundraising Professionals West Michigan chapter.

"In many cases, [charities] accept unrestricted dollars," Rogg said. "And that's the preference because the organization can determine where that dollar will be best used."

Unrestricted donations are what a lot of donors see with the hurricanes because you can't restrict a gift when there are so many needs, she said.

When the donations are not restricted to a specific item, vetting the charity is a necessity. Rogg suggested checking for the charity's IRS form 990, which provides the public with its financial information and allows the government to make sure the charity isn't abusing its tax-exempt status.

Using websites like GuideStar and Charity Navigator, you can find an organization's 990 and see what portion of the money it receives goes directly to the cause. For example, Charity Navigator shows the American Red Cross used 90.1 percent of its money to fund relief efforts.

"People don't understand that you have to have some administrative costs in order to do the mission of the organization," Rogg said.

It's also important to be careful with crowdfunding websites like GoFundMe because they aren't regulated the same way as other charities, she said.

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