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How can you tell good charities from the bad?
May. 11, 2013 @ 08:00 PM

Our neighbors in New England — actually, people across our entire nation — are finally beginning to recover after the tragic bombing last month at the Boston Marathon.

Two terrorists, perhaps with some help, attacked one of our most prestigious sporting events on Patriot’s Day, a holiday commemorating the battles of Lexington and Concord — and celebrating the birth of liberty. They did it with homemade explosives designed to create fear and weaken American resolve.

By the time one suspect was killed and the other captured, four innocent people had died. Three spectators perished in the actual bombings, including an 8-year-old child. Another, a police officer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was ambushed by suspects as they fled. According to one report in The Boston Globe, another 264 people were injured in the attack.

As terrible as the bombing was, it did not have its intended effect. Rather than becoming fearful, our brothers and sisters in Boston rose to the occasion with valor. Instead of showing our weakness, it demonstrated our strength. Regular people put their own lives in jeopardy to help those who were injured. Competitors continued running to hospitals to donate blood. Emergency officials responded decisively.

Reflecting national sentiment, President Obama stepped into the press briefing room to respond. “Boston police, firefighters and first responders, as well as the National Guard, responded heroically and continue to do so as we speak,” he said. “It’s a reminder that so many Americans serve and sacrifice on our behalf every single day, without regard to their own safety, in dangerous and difficult circumstances. And we salute all those who assisted in responding so quickly and professionally to this tragedy.”

As is always the case, generous people everywhere stepped forward to help with contributions. Quickly, established charities like the American Red Cross sprang into motion, accepting donations to help families of those killed and severely wounded. Some reputable new charities popped up to help, as well.

But as you can imagine, not all of those charities are legitimate. So, if you’re planning to donate to help survivors of the Boston bombing, how can you tell good charities from the bad?

Charity Navigator, a nonprofit promoting intelligent giving, begins by warning donors to be suspicious of any online appeal, whether it comes directly by e-mail or pops up in an Internet search. The group reports that hundreds of new bombing-related web addresses have been registered to solicit donations. Ken Berger, president of Charity Navigator, says it’s clearly an example of scam artists taking advantage of the tragedy.

The bottom line: Charity Navigator recommends that donors not contribute to brand new charities during a crisis, especially when reputable, established charities that have a proven track record are already on the scene. Even well-meaning new charities may not be effective in a crisis, simply because they don’t have the expertise and connections to use gifts effectively.

Some other suggestions for giving in times of a crisis?

Contribute to charities that allow you to designate your contribution for a particular purpose — in this case, to help those affected by the Boston bombings.

Avoid telemarketers entirely and never divulge any financial information to someone soliciting by phone.

Delete unsolicited e-mails with attachments. This is always the smart thing to do, but especially at times when our compassion could make us more likely to do things online that could spread viruses or install dangerous computer programs.

Always contribute online by going directly to a charity’s official, authorized website and avoid getting there using links in social media or Internet searches. It’s not unusual for scam artists to make it look like you’re contributing to a legitimate organization when you’re actually not.

Be careful about donating with a text message. It can take a long time for those contributions to reach those who need help and you may incur hidden charges.

Tragic events like the Boston bombings reveal our national character and generosity. After all, Americans are always quick to help, whether its assisting injured people at the finish line, volunteering time to feed first responders or contributing money to help families recover.

Let’s give, but give wisely. Not only to protect ourselves and our contributions, but also to make sure we’re really helping those who need it most.

Jan Hayes is executive director of the United Way of Lee County.