Reliable Ways To Donate Money To Haiti Effort

Guests

Kate Conradt, Save the Children communications director for emergencies
Daniel Borochoff, president and founder of the American Institute of Philanthropy

The devastating earthquake in Haiti has left the country in ruins, and untold numbers dead. People all over the world want to make contributions via text, websites, or hotlines. But there's still confusion about exactly which charities are the most reliable.

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REBECCA ROBERTS, host

Many people are wondering how they can help in Haiti. As we've heard, the situation is grim. Today, President Obama promised that aid was on its way to the devastated nation, and made a direct appeal to Americans for help.

President BARACK OBAMA: Even as we bring our resources to bear on this emergency, we need to summon the tremendous generosity and compassion of the American people. I want to thank the many Americans who have already contributed to this effort.

ROBERTS: That was President Obama, speaking this morning. Now, many people may want to help, but don't know the best way to give. Daniel Borochoff is the founder of charitywatch.org, and he is going to join us to help sort it all out. If you have questions about where and how to donate to Haiti, give us a call: 800-989-8255. Our email address is talk@npr.org. And you can join the conversation at our Web site. Go to npr.org and click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Joining us now from WBEZ in Chicago is Daniel Borochoff. He's the president and founder of the American Institute of Philanthropy. Welcome to the program.

Mr. DANIEL BOROCHOFF (President and Founder, American Institute of Philanthropy): Yes. Thanks for inviting me.

ROBERTS: So when a disaster of this proportion hits, it can feel overwhelming. You sort of don't know where to start if you want to help. What's your best advice?

Mr. BOROCHOFF: Well, take a breath, because this is going to go on for many years. You've got the short-term emergency needs, but you've got to help rebuild here after the disaster. And let's not forget about Haiti when it's over. So there's certainly a lot to consider. And there's a lot of great new tools that we could be talking about to use, but you still have to think it through the - just like you did the old-fashioned way before.

ROBERTS: And so we're also hearing from these new tools. There's a mobile-giving drive that's been organized where you send a text message, and it gives $10 that then appear on your phone bill. How confident can people be that these things work?

Mr. BOROCHOFF: Well, one thing to consider is, is some of these services, they distribute the money every - quarterly, meaning three times a year. So you may be able to quickly agree to give the money, but it may not wind up for the charity for a while. So we actually strongly encourage people to give directly, because there's less chance the money could be siphoned off. It's likely that the mobile phone company wants you to pay your bill before they're going to allocate the money.

And this is something new, and there could be things going wrong with it. So, certainly, we don't want to discourage new people from giving that might not ordinarily give, but it's almost always better to give direct.

ROBERTS: Another thing people get concerned about are sort of fly-by-night, give-now pseudo charities that are actually scams. How can people make themselves aware of those?

Mr. BOROCHOFF: Well, at the American Institute of Philanthropy's Web site at Charitywatch.org, we've identified about 25 not-profit groups that are top rated that may actually give 75 percent or more of their budget to programs, don't spend more than $25 to raise $100 in our accountable and have experience in the region. You got - these are like A-plus and B-plus groups. You've got to be careful. I mean, there's other famous groups like Feed the Children and World Emergency Relief that are raising money for Haiti that get an F.

So you want to make sure they have a track record and they're a good group. So you've got to be familiar. Do some checking around to verify, you know, ask some different Web sites like Charitywatch.org to make sure that it's real. There's been a lot - in past disasters, there's been a lot of fake Web sites being put up. And you've got, also, individuals trying to raise money, people impersonating the victim. Or maybe they actually are a victim, but then they're able to get a lot more money than somebody else, and that's not fair.

ROBERTS: And when you say that this is an A-plus or B-plus charity, using the Charity Watch grading system, what earns a charity that level of rating?

Mr. BOROCHOFF: Groups that are able to get 75 percent or more of their cash budget to actual bona fide charitable programs, groups that don't spent more than $25 to raise $100, groups that are accountable, that have audits and tax forms and are willing to describe what they do. And then there's disaster: One thing that can happen because there's such a frenzy over it is, sometimes the group might raise too much and try to use - try to use - divert money to another cause or another problem.

So what you might do is when you're asking is ask the charity, how much do you need to spend for Haiti? What's your budget? Because there's a chance that they might overdo it, being, you know, that coverage that's available right now in this crisis.

ROBERTS: Daniel Borochoff, again, from CharityWatch.org, where you can find rankings of charities. Charity Navigator is another similar site where they have a star ranking for charities.

Let's hear from Stephanie, in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Stephanie, welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.

STEPHANIE (Caller): Hi. I'm a high school student, and I just want to try to send items instead of money. My students are not from the highest socioeconomic status. Are there any specific items like shoes or children's books or anything to help out post-cleanup, I guess?

Mr. BOROCHOFF: OK. Be really careful with donated goods. There's - a lot of the roads are blocked. There's limited supply lines. You could really clog things up with sending donated goods that are not needed. So before you send anything, make sure that the charity wants it and needs it. This is not the time to be cleaning out your garage or your refrigerator because the cost of shipping stuff could far exceed the cost of buying it.

And also, it's good to buy locally because then you could help the economy there. If we dump so much stuff in Haiti, a lot of businesses are going to go under. And then when the crisis is over, there's not going to be markets for people to buy stuff. So we have to be really sensitive to that and only distribute - only send over things that are really needed and can be - can be distributed.

STEPHANIE: So it would be a good idea to, from another city, order something from a business, and then it would much be easier for a business in another part of Haiti to get it to the survivors.

Mr. BOROCHOFF: Certainly, that would be better if it's - then, again, if it is something that's needed by the relief workers.

ROBERTS: Stephanie, thanks for your call. Speaking of relief workers, we are joined on the line by Kate Conradt. She's Save the Children's communications director for emergencies. She joins us from Port-au-Prince. Thank you so much for being here.

Ms. KATE CONRADT (Communications Director for Emergencies, Save the Children): Thanks for having me.

ROBERTS: From your perspective, what is most needed for what you're trying to accomplish?

Ms. CONRADT: Right now, we are looking at - and this is for everybody, really -the most immediate needs. Water is scarce. Food is scarce. A lot of people have lost their homes and are sleeping outside. We're seeing sort of spontaneous camps spring up, and a lot of people moving, carrying what they have, hanging onto their children, baskets of stuff on their head, looking for a safe place to stay.

The aftershocks have slowed down, but people are either very afraid to go back into their homes, or they have no home. So, right now, it's very basic (unintelligible) needs that we're working on and that the other agencies are working on.

ROBERTS: And what is your wish list? Would you prefer cash?

Ms. CONRADT: At this point, yes. It's (unintelligible) difficult to get planes in, especially large planes into the airports. We flew in from the Dominican Republic with some medicine and some supplies that had been donated there. But it's - there's a really - a logjam right now at the airport. And little planes are coming in. Helicopters are coming in. But (unintelligible) that we see in other emergencies, and it often takes a couple of days, unfortunately, with major supplies that have (unintelligible) to land yet.

So, right now, we do what we can (unintelligible) locally, even searching the Dominican Republic and elsewhere. We're pulling in supplies. Save the Children has warehouses with tents and other supplies sort of around the world, and we're pulling those in right now. But, you know, there's a lineup at the airport.

ROBERTS: Save the Children, as you mentioned, works around the world. And where - are there sort of commonalities that you know what to expect in almost every disaster? And what situations have you seen that looked to be unique to this earthquake in this country?

Ms. CONRADT: The commonalities would be (unintelligible) scale disaster like this one, that a lot of people are - just need the basics to survive the early days. And, again, that is food and water and shelter. (unintelligible)

This is the poorest country in the hemisphere. People were living on the edge before the disaster. Eighty percent of the population lives under the poverty line, lots of very poor, vulnerable children, especially. So you have a very large disaster on top of this really sort of a long-term, simmering humanitarian disaster. So, you know, the vulnerability of people has really increased. The need - the (unintelligible) issues for children are very serious. The country's still recovering from the hurricanes from late 2008.

ROBERTS: And as you can hear, the cell phone coverage is spotty, so we're going to let you go, Kate Conradt. Thank you so much for joining us.

Ms. CONRADT: Thanks for having me.

ROBERTS: Kate Conradt joined us from Port-au-Prince, Haiti. She's communications director for emergencies for Save the Children. Also, still on the line with us from WBEZ in Chicago is Daniel Borochoff. He is the president and founder of the American Institute of Philanthropy. They have CharityWatch.org as a site where you can go check out the ratings of various charities if you are wanting to give to victims of the Haitian earthquake and aren't quite sure where to start.

We have a call from Tara in San Francisco. Tara, welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.

TARA (Caller): Hi. I just had a question, and I kind of just wanted to put it out there and I don't feel like it's being addressed directly about volunteering. And I understand there's a lot of monetary need and a lot of need for food and water, but is there any way for people to actually volunteer? The Red Cross (unintelligible) need any volunteers to take over there. And I feel like there's going to be a lot more than just doctors and nurses, you know, people going there and actually helping and doing what ever they can.

ROBERTS: Daniel Borochoff, do you have an answer for Tara?

Mr. BOROCHOFF: Well, to meeting intermediate or longer-term needs, but in the middle of a disaster, unless you're a U.S. Marine or an experienced disaster worker, you know, where are you going to - where would you stay if you were there? What would you eat? You'd probably get sick. And you're probably just get in the way, so hold off now and look at it later. There's going to be lots of opportunities to rebuild this country in the next decade. So hold off. Hold off and volunteer when you can really be needed and it won't get in the way and cause more problems, potentially.

ROBERTS: I have heard aid workers used the term SUV: Spontaneous Untrained Volunteers.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ROBERTS: Let's take a call from Maureen in Phoenix. Maureen, welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.

MAUREEN (Caller): Thank you very much.

ROBERTS: Sure. You're on the air. What's your question?

MAUREEN: Oh, okay. Yes. I was calling to find out when you were mentioning the - a philanthropic rating system of 75 percent, that seemed to me a bit high -going toward raising the funds. I was wondering if you have a list of, perhaps, places that can - that give 90 percent or better. I know that charities or churches and so forth are pretty well known for that. But do you have any other on the list?

Mr. BOROCHOFF: Some of the groups at Charitywatch.org do give 90 percent or more. But be careful. A lot of these just play with their numbers. And so while they may claim they get 90 percent or more, it could actually be lower. And we actually vet it out. So we really scrutinize...

MAUREEN: Oh, okay. So that would be true of those with 75 percent, too. You did the same scrutiny on those organizations.

Mr. BOROCHOFF: Oh, very, very definitely. There's a lot of tricks and game playing with the financial reporting. And we, at the America Institute of Philanthropy, scrutinize it to give you a better sense as to what's really happening with the money that you give.

ROBERTS: Maureen, thanks for your call. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

We have an email from Julie, who says: My family gave to Food for the Poor because we already had a giving relationship with them, and because 97 percent of their funds go to their programs. Was this a good choice? My only concern is that a larger organization like the Red Cross might be able to do more with the money.

Mr. BOROCHOFF: Well, as it turns out, it - Food for the Poor, they receive a C grade for the American Institute of Philanthropy. They're giving about 55 percent of their cash budget at charitable programs. So you could probably find a more efficient group than that to give to.

ROBERTS: And, in general, between a small charity and a large charity?

Mr. BOROCHOFF: Both can be good. You know, it really depends. If people have connections with the Haitian community, they might be able to locate some local Haitian groups that are doing very well. And some of these national groups and international groups do work with local charities to be able to reach these people. One needs a lot of sensitivity because it's a very different culture in Haiti, you know? They eat different food. They have different burial standards. So there's - we really need to be, you know, considerate of that going into, you know, a very different culture.

ROBERTS: Let's here from Angelo in Charlotte, North Carolina. Welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.

ANGELO (Caller): Yes. Thank you. Yeah, I'm calling from Charlotte. I'm a nurse. I work for CHS, Carolina's HealthCare System, and I'm also a student at UNCC, UNC Charlotte. I was wondering how can I volunteer to go to Haiti, because I know - I was watching CNN. They need a lot of doctors and nurses. But I've been calling (unintelligible). I'm getting through anything.

ROBERTS: Daniel Borochoff...

Mr. BOROCHOFF: Mm-hmm.

ROBERTS: ...are people with medical expertise...

Mr. BOROCHOFF: Yeah. Well, I mean, there are number of medical organizations. I don't know if they're, you know, they're hiring on additional people. In a crisis situation, they most likely want people with experience. But at Charitywatch.org, we've listed a number of medical-related charities that are helping, and certainly you can try contacting them. But I don't think - I think they've already got their people. This is not a time that they're going to be wanting to train people. But maybe, you know, after things calm down, they will be looking to hire some additional medical personnel.

ROBERTS: So at Charitywatch.org, is there a page that is specifically Haiti related?

Mr. BOROCHOFF: Yes. Yes, there is. We have an alert. It's on the homepage.

ROBERTS: And those are all charities that receive your highest grade?

Mr. BOROCHOFF: The - yeah. We list the top-rated groups for the - that are serving in - to - in response to that, to the Haiti earthquake.

ROBERTS: And is that something that - you mentioned that there might be local charities that have Haitian contacts. Is that something that you will update as this relief effort continues?

Mr. BOROCHOFF: We concentrate on national and international groups. I mean, if we're - you know, if a certain group starts to receive a significant amount of money and people want to see a rating on it, we will - we'll do it.

ROBERTS: And - yeah. How long does this sort of initial burst generally last? Right now, people are feeling sort of motivated, but what are the patterns here?

Mr. BOROCHOFF: I mean, some of these crises have long legs. I mean, this Katrina and tsunami and - the Asian tsunami, that went on for quite a while. It looks like there's still - that this one could go on for a while because they're still uncovering a lot of problems, a lot of suffering, a lot of needs. So this could go on for a while. So I encourage people to stay with it and continue to follow it and think in terms of giving money for the emergency needs and then thinking about giving money later for needs as they arise.

ROBERTS: Daniel Borochoff joined us from WBEZ in Chicago. He's the president and founder of the American Institute of Philanthropy. You can find a link to the charities that his organization recommends at our Web site at npr.org. Thanks for joining us.

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