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Did you know 2017 holds the title for the costliest year on record due to natural disasters? It’s true, to the tune of at least $306 billion. People in the U.S. are still trying to recover from:

  • California’s record wildfire season, its most destructive and extensive yet
  • Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Jose, and Maria—Puerto Rico being especially hard hit
  • Floods due to record high water in Oklahoma, Missouri, and Arkansas

Unfortunately, it can be tough to separate the wheat from the chaff among giving opportunities. How can you reliably determine who needs help, what they need, and which groups you can trust?

Fortunately, there are resources available to help you identify legitimate giving venues. Major new outlets like the New York Times often publish lists of trustworthy ways you can aid disaster victims. Organizations like Charity Navigator actually rate nonprofits on their finances and transparency.

But there are other things to consider before deciding where and how you want to donate.

Think About What Matters to You

Maybe certain issues, groups of people, or areas of the country are particularly dear to your heart. The opportunity to give in a way that dovetails with your values can be extremely rewarding. Just know that once your heart has spoken, you need to let reason decide on the organization you choose to get the funds where they belong. Or, you might simply donate to a favorite charity and let them decide how to use the money or goods.

Reason Works Best with Research

They say knowledge is power, and that’s certainly true when you’re trying to decide where to give. Fortunately, researching charities isn’t difficult. It helps to know:

You Can’t Go Wrong with Cash

  • Any organization that focuses on the problem and not on what they’re doing to solve it should give you pause.
  • Charity Navigator isn’t your only online resource. You can also consult the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving site and Charity Watch.
  • You can review an organization’s website, annual report, governing board, and mission.

Cash is free. By that we mean there are no transportation costs involved, whereas donations of goods often cost more to transport than the goods themselves are worth. Say you donate 3 pair of jeans. For what it costs to transport those jeans, the relief organization might have purchased 50 tents and thousands of bottles of water. Cash can also be funneled into the local economy.

Once you decide where and how to give, be sure to check back every now and then. Recovery can take months or years, and you may have another chance to help.