Here are some suggestions for donating to a Canadian charity in a disaster such as we recently saw in Haiti, Pakistan and Japan.

Select charities that are:

  1. reputable (usually there is strong name recognition) such as Care Canada, Save the Children Canada, Oxfam Canada, World Vision Canada, Doctors Without Borders Canada (MSF), etc.
  2. experienced in disaster relief operations
  3. ideally have done past work in the disaster area
  4. have people on the ground in the disaster area because often it is difficult to get people in

Also, you may want to consider organizations that perhaps have the capacity to move from relief to development work.

Generally avoid telephone solicitations – good disaster relief organizations when dealing with disasters are generally too busy to be calling you – you either have to go to their website or call them to donate.

If you do receive a telephone solicitation or someone knocks on your door, be very skeptical and suspicious and be aware of sound alike organizations. The best approach is to go to the internet, do your research and donate directly on their website or send the organization a cheque. Best not to give cash to a door-to-door solicitor.

Avoid newly formed organizations set up to deal with the disaster – by the time they get going months will have passed.

Donate funds, generally not goods. An airlift of goods is very expensive, goods are often not appropriate or don’t get donated in appropriate quantities – not to mention that one wants to try to support the local economy by buying, where possible, locally produced goods instead of dumping our goods on a country which undermines business in that country.

You might want to check out a group called the Humanitarian Coalition made up of Save the Children, Care Canada, Plan Canada, Oxfam Canada and Oxfam Quebec – in major disasters these 5 groups work together to coordinate their fundraising and work. One of the biggest problems facing donors is the barrage of organizations asking for donations. With one central organization coordinating disaster relief like the Humanitarian Coalition, it makes it very easy for a Canadian donor/foundation to know who they can support. This has been done for decades in the UK where it is called the Disaster Emergency Committee and I am very glad that the Humanitarian Coalition will try to do the same thing here in Canada.

Beware of social media – allow it to inspire you but do your research. Because someone says on Twitter or Facebook that a charity is great does not make it so.

Beware of organizations who make deceptive or misleading marketing claims. For example, you should be wary of organizations that claim to have no overhead or administration costs.

Is the organization listed as a registered charity on the CRA website? See – most organizations that are based in Canada and do disaster work will be registered charities, however, being a registered charity almost guarantees nothing other than that they can issue an official donation receipt. There are superb registered charities and others who are ineffectual, bureaucratic, inefficient, and yes there are the massive tax evasion scam charities that CRA has been trying hard to weed out but they keep on popping up.

By visiting the CRA website you can see the T3010 Registered Charity Information Returns for every registered charity which provides some information about the charity. Be aware, however, that the individual charities provide the information and it is not verified by anyone and some of the worst charities financial numbers look “great”.

Practically speaking the best way to determine if an organization is really good is either to volunteer with the organization, have a close friend or someone you really trust volunteer with the organization or for you or a close friend to receive services from an organization. In a disaster situation you often need to act quickly and you do not have luxury of doing that due diligence and you therefore may find it helpful to select organizations based on the criteria listed at the top of this page.

For more information on disasters see CRA Charities Directorate – How can I help victims of disasters?