For those interested in donating to the relief efforts from Hurricane Harvey, please see Red Cross’ post below. Cash donations are preferred, as this helps them provide whatever is needed most:
The threat from Hurricane Harvey is far from over as extremely dangerous flooding continues in Texas and parts of Louisiana. American Red Cross is mobilizing all possible resources and is working around the clock to provide safe shelter and comfort for the hundreds of thousands of people impacted by this disaster. You can help too by making a donation. Visit www.redcross.org, Text the word Harvey to 90999 to make a $10 donation, or call 1-800-Red Cross. THANK YOU FOR YOUR SUPPORT!!!
Harvey donations: Why cash? Why not in-kind donations?
Think about right now and think about long term. Right now is chaos. People are displaced, roads are flooded, and warehouses are unavailable. There are no places to store in-kind goods. There is no place to distribute in-kind goods. Right now overwhelmed agencies are still assessing the situation and its needs. Because they are in the thick of it, they are better able to determine what is needed and cash donations provides them with the funds to get people what they need – right now. In the long term, flooding will recede, flood victims will be returning home. Then they will need your in-kind donations and your services. Then they will still need your help months, even years from now. If you want to help right now, choose an organization that YOU trust and make a monetary donation. 
The IRS cautions people wishing to make disaster-related charitable donations to avoid scam artists by following these tips: 
  • Be sure to donate to recognized charities.
  • Be wary of charities with names that are similar to familiar or nationally known organizations. Some phony charities use names or websites that sound or look like those of respected, legitimate organizations. The IRS website at IRS.gov has a search feature, Exempt Organizations Select Check, through which people may find qualified charities; donations to these charities may be tax-deductible.
  • Don’t give out personal financial information — such as Social Security numbers or credit card and bank account numbers and passwords — to anyone who solicits a contribution. Scam artists may use this information to steal a donor’s identity and money.
  • Never give or send cash. For security and tax record purposes, contribute by check or credit card or another way that provides documentation of the donation.
According to Charity Navigator, here are some of the highest-rated local non-profits working in the Houston area:

 Americares

— Direct Relief

— Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston

 Convoy of Hope

— Save the Children

How do you avoid a scam non-profit? You need to do some vetting. Here are some guidelines:

— A charity solicits your donation by phone or email. Most legitimate charities put their money into “program” work, that is, directly helping people. If you’re getting aggressive solicitations, that’s usually a bad sign. Avoid those charities that do this.

Want to know if a charity is legit? Here are some guidelines from the IRS:

“Be wary of charities with names that are similar to familiar or nationally known organizations. Some phony charities use names or websites that sound or look like those of respected, legitimate organizations.

The IRS  Web site has a search feature, Exempt Organizations Select Check, through which people may find qualified charities; donations to these charities may be tax-deductible.”

— Use an independent third party to evaluate the charity. Other than Charity Navigator, use theBetter Business Bureau’s Give.org site. “Verify the trustworthiness of soliciting relief organizations by visiting Give.org to access free reports that specify if the charity meets the 20 BBB Standards for Charity Accountability,” the BBB offers.

— See if the charity has boots on the ground. Many don’t, but will be more than happy to accept your donation. If you want to target your contribution to “direct” relief groups, then you need to do a little research.

“Unless the charity already has staff in the affected areas,” notes the BBB, “it may be difficult to bring in new aid workers to provide assistance quickly. See if the charity’s website clearly describes what the charity can do to address immediate needs.”

— Be wary of crowdfunding. Although this way of raising money on social media can be effective and fast, these sites are hard to vet. You don’t know where the money is headed.

“Keep in mind that some crowdfunding sites do very little vetting of individuals who decide to post for assistance after a disaster, and it is often difficult for donors to verify the trustworthiness of crowdfunding requests for support,” the BBB adds.

“If you decide to contribute via crowdfunding, it is probably best to give to people who you personally know that have posted requests for assistance.”

Excerpts from Forbes.com and Maricopa County Department of Emergency Management