In the wake of Sunday's loss of 19 firefighters to the Yarnell Hill Fire near Prescott, the Better Business Bureau has issued tips for wise charitable giving.
"Unfortunately as we have seen with the Newtown school shooting and Boston Marathon bombings, tragedy brings out scam artists," Kim States, president of BBB of Southern Arizona, said in a news release. "While it is a natural reaction to want to help the victims' families and community through donations, we encourage donors to learn more about the charity before contributing."
Consumers are encouraged to visit the BBB's Wise Giving alliance website at give.org to learn more about reputable national charities.
Most states require charities to register with a state government agency, usually a division of the state Attorney General's Office, before soliciting for charitable gifts. If a charity is not registered, that may be a red flag, the BBB warns.
Watch out for vague appeals that don't identify the intended use of the funds.
If a family sets up their own assistance fund, it is wise to make sure the money is received and administered by a third party such as a bank, CPA or lawyer, the BBB says. This will help ensure the collected funds are used appropriately on tragedy-related needs such as funeral costs or counseling.
It's important for organizations to provide an accounting of how funds were spent by posting the information on its website for all to see, so the public doesn't have to wait until audited financial statements are available in the future.
It might be wise to consider giving to an established charity, the BBB says. While a new organization may mean well, it will be difficult to research. The established charity will have a track record that can be evaluated.
Lastly, a donor should keep in mind that not all organizations collecting funds are tax-exempt as charities under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and donations to nonexempt organizations cannot be written off.