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nikki and jason wynn holding up natural disaster relief sign about how to help with hurricane, fire, cyclone relief

Don’t Get Scammed, Make Your Donation Count (Hurricanes, Fires & Other Natural Disasters)

If you’ve been paying attention to the news lately, or scrolling your social feeds, the world seems pretty bleak.

The Amazon is burning, Hurricane Dorian obliterated the Bahamas, Typhoon Faxai is ripping through the Tokyo Area and bushfires are raging across Queensland and New South Wales.

When these tragic disasters leave thousands in dire need, we want to help. But, what if our donations don’t actually help?

natural disasters of 2018

CRED. Natural Disasters 2018. Brussels: CRED; 2019. This document is available at: https://emdat.be/ sites/default/files/adsr_2018.pdf

 

Thousands upon thousands of people and animals are without access to clean water, adequate food supplies, medical aid and more.  It’s as if the apocalypse is here and the world is ending.  It’s gut-wrenching and overwhelming to say the least.

Our instincts are to jump in and help.  Especially when it’s destinations we’ve explored and people we love.  But, between the hundreds of organizations claiming to help and the opportunistic scammers, it also seems like no good deed goes unpunished.

Trying to figure out how or where to put our efforts…well it isn’t easy.  With each new disaster, we found ourselves endlessly researching to make sure our donation counts.

I can’t say we have it all figured out, but we have found some great resources that make the decision-making processes much easier.  We’ve also learned a lot about what NOT to do when it comes to disaster relief.

There are three main ways to help when a disaster strikes.  We can donate money, volunteer and/or donate goods.  It sounds simple and it can be if we’re armed with a little knowledge.

 

No Such Thing As A Quick Fix

When nature roars up and devastation is all we see, we want to help make it go away as fast as possible.  But the reality is there are no quick fixes.  Sure, there is immediate emergency efforts needed but the real work is long-term and begins right about the time media has moved onto the next big disaster.

Long term recovery and rebuilding takes years.  It typically requires help from a wide variety of volunteers and organizations.  No single charitable organization can address all of a population’s needs after a huge devastation like a hurricane, tsunami, earthquake or fire.

This is part of why we see so many different organizations offering disaster relief.  They all serve different areas of need, and each organization needs support to fulfill their mission.

 

Nothing Beats Cold Hard Cash

Sending money to a reputable organization is the best way to help. Sending money allows the organizations to distribute the funds how, and where, they are needed.  They can send experienced professionals out in the field, with the exact supplies needed, in a timely manner.

It’s incredible what a massive difference just a couple of dollars can do.  For Example: If everyone who follows us on Instagram gave $2 to an organization supporting disaster relief, that would be $120,000+ donated!  That amount would help thousands.  So, don’t discount the impact you can have!

 

Beware of Fake Disaster Relief

When a big disaster hits, there are scummy thieves waiting to take advantage of your good deeds.  Don’t let them!

There are opportunistic posers who set up fake disaster relief organizations.  From pages on social media (Instagram, facebook, twitter…), to making cold calls or even dropping a flyer on your front porch.  These scammers can seem genuine and 100% legit, but don’t let them take advantage of you!

Do your research before ever donating a penny.  Ask questions!

  • Does the charity have a website?
  • Is there enough clear information about the programs and how they use donations?
  • Do they have an on-the-ground presence in the impacted areas? If not, chances are they may not be as quick and effective as an organization that does.
  • Is the relief immediate, long-term or both? There should be specifics.
  • Is this direct aid? Or are they raising money for other organizations?  Consider going direct to the organizations they are supporting.
  • Exactly how much of your financial donation goes to the programs you wish to support?

The easiest way to find the answers to the questions is through a third-party source. These websites all provide reports and help you research and find reputable charities:  Charity Navigator, Give.org, CharityWatch, and GuideStar.

 

Social Media & Crowdfunding

Crowdfunding sites are set up by individual people which make them very difficult to vet. Anyone could set up a Go Fund Me or a Kickstarter claiming to offer aid to people in need.  I could, you could.  Who’s to verify we’re being honest?  It’s all painfully easy…so be wary of donating to these programs.  Our rule is: We only give to people we personally know.

 

Telegiving?

I do not donate over the phone, ever. Any legitimate charity will be thrilled to get your donation through their website…after you have verified it is indeed legitimate.  It’s all too easy to pretend to be a well-known organization or to make up a name that sounds awfully familiar.

 

Volunteer

Boots on the ground!  If you are near the affected area, or are willing to travel, volunteering is a rewarding way to help.  But do not show up unsolicited!  You may end up being more of a burden than a help.

Check out the NVOAD website (National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster).  NVOAD specializes in coordinating relief efforts from lots of different organizations.

Disaster areas can be overwhelmed with the amount of generous people who want to help. Working with an organization like NVOAD helps keep things efficient and effective. They also make sure you are properly prepared and trained to handle the situation before being deployed in the affected areas.

 

Donate Goods

This one is super tricky for many reasons.  I hesitate to donate goods unless we are fulfilling a very specific request, meeting the most urgent needs.

Do NOT donate goods at random.  Turns out our unsolicited donations are a huge hindrance.

The supplies needed vary depending on the type of disaster and the location affected.  Donations can quickly overwhelm an organization. Even basic necessities, like food and water can be a logistical nightmare to store and can be expensive to distribute…if they can even make it to the area in need.  Which is why so many organizations will request that you not donate items to them, or they are very specific about how they would like for you to donate goods.

 

The Big Takeaway

The biggest surprise from all of my research…sometimes our eagerness to help does more harm than good.   We’re so quick to help, we give without thinking.

From volunteers (even medical teams) who show up uninvited, to donors who ship boxes of unusable household goods, misguided compassion can actually burden scarce resources, cost time, money, energy and and lives.

From individuals to inexperienced organizations, we all have to make sure we’re either helping or staying out of the way. Which is why it is important to coordinate and work with a reputable and professional organization.

We want our donation to count.  Which is why I’m sharing what I have learned.  The more we all spread the word, the more efficient and helpful we can all be.

If you have questions, post them in the comment box and we will try our best to answer them…and others will chime in with their knowledge too!  It takes a village.

If you have a fab resource for vetting charities and relief organizations or another source for where to sign up as a volunteer, please share!  Some of our best finds, tips and tricks have come from the comments left here on our virtual base camp.  So Thank You!

Hello there! I honestly don’t know what to say, so I am going to tell you a bunch of random facts instead. I'm a fish eating vegetarian who hates spiders and loves snakes. I almost never took vacations growing up. I wanted to be Pippi Longstocking (still do). I misspell about every other word I write and still struggle with grammar. I love splurging on a good high tea (which is really hard to find these days). And whatever you do, don’t tell me I can’t do something, because then I'll HAVE to do it!

Comments (46)

  • Doug C.

    Another awesome post!

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  • Kris

    Thank you for the resources, especially NVOAD. Please keep being the awesome, big hearted, compassionate people that you are!💕

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  • TD

    I spent 4 years as a Regional CEO for the American Red Cross, during which time I had to put up with a lot of misinformation about my organization and disaster relief in general. Your info is well researched and spot-on! Great job!
    My wife and I will be full-time voyagers at the end of this year, and intend to spend our first few weeks helping rebuild in the Abacos, so this info is helpful for us too.

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  • Steve Nicholls

    YES, BRAVO Nikki. Well said! Your comments were most appreciated …. and inspired me!

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  • Narf

    Bravo Nikki! Well said. I love to hear your insights & news. I believe we can always learn from one another. Thank you for the tips on finding legitimate places to donate money to those in need. It is always a good thing to help others. I thoroughly enjoy your diving adventures & often wonder how our marine life and villagers are faring with so much contamination, but your respect for nature and others is admirable & inspiring. Thank you.😘

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  • Rob Anderson

    From the google machine ….

    he·ro
    /ˈhirō/

    noun
    1.
    a person who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities.

    You guys check all of those boxes …

    Thanks hero!

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  • Everett Foster Adams

    Well Received, correct about the responsibility we have to those ‘gifts’ we offer. Too often the issue isn’t getting the materials needed but how it is handled.

    I trust Salvation Army for a couple of reasons, mostly about their overhead but also how the system works.

    I will venture a comment here based on what I hear about the Bahamas. Much like the Florida panhandle, low lying area in Grand Bahama and Abaco were worst hit.. The idea of ‘dumping’ supplies on a airport apron and flying away isn’t going to do more than cause more confusion on an already taxed infrastructure. Food, Clothing, Shelter are the immediate needs but the economy is more taxed than every before.. much like Porto Rico was some years ago.. rebuilding takes much more.

    America, has the desire to help but we aren’t prepared… It’s difficult to think about not being able to help but here’s one…. Did anyone have reservations for a resort hotel in the Bahamas?… send the rest of the amount and stay home.

    We may think ‘government’ is the answer.. an Aircraft Carrier dispatched to the stricken area. More helpful, a fleet of boats sent when the docks are in shape to deliver aid to the outlying areas.. where the infrastructure can reach for now. Consider it like the event at Dunkirk, where deep keel boats need an improved harbor, small vessels can approach the shore.

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  • Margie Daniels

    You nailed it. Thanks….always a good reminder.

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  • Bernard Schaer

    This is an appropriate and important post! Thank you for that! Bernard

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  • Gary Courtland

    Thank you so much, Nikki, for writing this and referring us to web sites that provide reviews and vetting of relief organizations. I’m a bit of a sucker for pleas for help, but want to make sure the funds are actually going to be used to effectively help the people in need. I am infuriated at the crooks who come out of the woodwork to con people when disaster strikes!

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  • Alan Solomon

    Great information. I knew some of this but, I did not go in-depth as much as you did. I appreciate your time, research and effort here.

    I see a lot of the negative stuff going on as we all see it on the news, Online or wherever. It is really terrible. In some of these scenarios and situations I feel like, what can my contribution do towards a solution. I sort of feel helpless especially what’s going on in the Amazon and what could be going on in the Arctic soon..

    Thanks again and Best Regards,

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  • Todd VanderWeyden

    I just want to say good on you two for this post. I love what you do and that is why I come here. I never expect you to stick to a particular format nor subject and that is what makes it real and a fun read. Thank you for helping people be smart and safe and mostly thank you for helping the people in need.
    Safe travels,

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  • Dakers

    Any time someone can shed light on giving to the right organizations and not giving to the wrong ones they are doing a great service to the needy not the greedy. It is never wrong to do right.
    Someone has to be the watchman and having a platform that allows anyone to help those in need should be applauded for their effort. Many pro athletes and celebrities have used their platform to help others. People who care don’t have a shut off switch that allows them to turn their backs to those in need. Empathy and wisdom directed in the right direction is needed everywhere all the time.

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  • Doreen Colnaghi

    Thank you for your attention to this situation. Knew things were getting worse too, but didn’t know to that extent. I think traveling around the country (like us all in RV’s) and the world (like you two) our awareness is raised. At least it should be. You reach a lot of people with this message, so thank you again and stay safe.

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  • Lynda Vallee

    Thanks Nikki, I just volunteered a few hours at Soap for Hope which is part of Disaster Relief Canada. What I really appreciate about the work they do is they are also keeping so much waste out of the landfill and donating personal soaps and body washes to people in need. They collect partially used bottles of shampoo, conditioner and body wash from local hotels, refill and provide to people in need. The first focus seems to be on the local communities, i.e. homeless, then they fan out to bigger disaster relief, such a Hurricane Dorian. There were four of us working at our station for 2 hours and I was amazed at how much we got done.

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  • Lou

    Good read kid, both of you keep being real, it’s why I watch. As far as organizations go. I see the boots on the ground, who’s there actually making progress. If I look at organizational financials my stomach turns. It is a tough call. That’s just my opinion. Thanks for your efforts.

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  • Martine

    Thank you so much for this article. It will definitely come in handy, since yes I am one of those that just starts throwing money with my heart. Love you guys. Take care.

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  • FLOYD BRIGHT

    The Salvation Army is still the most reliable disaster aid organization in the U.S. I know they are also involved in the Bahamas. Sincr they started in the U.K. they are probably still there alo.
    You can trust absolutely in their committment to helping people in need.

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  • Carolyn B

    This is a great post! You two go way above and beyond! The best “YouTubers” on the Planet! Thank you!

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  • Jimbo

    Got it did it …

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  • Suzeebee33

    Thank you Wynns! Watching your travels has brought a more global awareness to us. I will take your advice. I hope to be boots on the ground one day when I don’t punch a time clock. I will be sure I know what is needed before I show up. I had never thought of it that way. Sometimes people just clear out their closets in an effort to help of course but now I see the bigger picture. Knowledge is power. Thank you.

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  • Heather Stewart

    Most excellent and accurate post!! I’m not in the disaster response business, but I’ve been involved in local emergency planning as well as having been immersed in the nonprofit world for most of my career, and I have worked closely with a wide variety of nonprofits to do respond.

    CASH/MONEY is indeed the most flexible and needed assistance. Right on with checking the linked websites, they are definitely the place to do your own research. Transparency is the key. My favorite and the one that’s been around the longest is GuideStar, I use it all the time. the most informative document you should be able to review is the annual 990’s, which are their tax documents…when did they last submit a 990 (probably a year behind current maybe 2)? Have they EVER submitted a 990? Read those documents to see where the finances are going and the persons involved. For example (not specific endorsements), World Central Kitchen, for which Chef José Andrés does amazing work, is a “Platinum” rated charity on GuideStar. GlobalGiving is also a well-known, Platinum rated nonprofit that focuses on crowd-funding. https://www.globalgiving.org/

    I would also support and reiterate the “now” versus “future” needs…it takes a long time to recover from disasters of magnitude. Consider becoming a sustaining donor or plan your future donations…it is very welcome support that, indeed, adds up.

    Thank you guys for posting such an informative and important resource.

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  • Captain Hook

    Please keep your comments (Wynn’s) for your sailing adventures.i really enjoy watching your you tube channel, so let’s not start by giving me info on current events. You have a lot of competition out there, Sailing La Vagabonde made some remarks, but they kept it on the boat, as with sailing doodles. Anchors away

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    • Tom Fitch

      I disagree. The Wynns have become like friends over the last couple of years, and, like friends, I like to learn more about what they care about, likes, dislikes, etc. These are mulit-faceted people with amazing interests and I would like to know more about them. Maybe you have landed on the wrong website for your interests.

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      • Roach

        👍

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      • Doreen Colnaghi

        Good for you Nikki!

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      • Viviergiver!

        Nikki and Jason – please keep doing what you are doing! It’s brilliant and inspirational !!! Always look forward to your videos and posts. Love from Canada!!!

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    • Peter Pan

      Nikki, don’t pay any heed to Captain Grumpypants here. You just go right on and share all the helpful info you can.

      reply
      • Steve Nicholls

        I agree with Peter Pan! Go for it, Nikki – you talk sense! Jason would too but we don’t hear so much from him. Hint, Jason! By the way, love you guys.

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  • frans vanleeuwen

    Love this, thank you for suggestions, nicely done.
    I am glad you guys came up with this to add awareness of the reality of suffering throughout the world
    Its fun to experience beautiful places but…life is messy also

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  • David

    This is going to sound cold and calloused probably, but it is cold hard facts… Let us call it, the facts of the matter.
    I gave up donating money years ago after so many charitable organizations were exposed as corrupt. Some still are!!

    There are hundreds, probably thousands of organizations already, “helping out” gofundme pages everywhere. Governments “helping.”
    America sent Purto Rico millions of dollars in aid. Money, medical supplies, food, clothing, shelter supplies, heck even paper towels. They found it stashed in warehouses being ripped off by Government officials and thieves.

    America is a loving, kind giving country. We get screwed over all the time. For me enough is enough.

    Has the Bahama’s ever helped us in our time of need? I don’t recall hearing from the during 911.

    Again, I don’t mean to sound cold, I’m not… I help my fellow human. I put my resources where I can see for myself it goes to positive change and not scandal.

    There are plenty of starving sick and homeless people right here in the USA. If you want to help, help them.

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    • Kris

      It sounds cold and calloused because it is. Helping people in the US and helping people world wide are not mutually exclusive.

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  • Debbie L

    People generally are generous when they see a great need. We have generally given to the American Red Cross because they keep their administrative costs down. But with the latest round of disasters, we decided to look more closely where we donate. We found this website to help see how the money we donate is used – looking for those charities that use the money directly to those impacted. Hope this helps in your very timely and appropriate post! https://www.charitynavigator.org

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  • Susan J

    Great tips and info! Sadly, too many people don’t pay attention and throw their $$ at the first opportunity without vetting it. Learn Stuff BEFORE you donate or find a good foundation and support them regularly— before, during and after disasters to make the biggest impact!

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  • Tom Fitch

    On the news last week I saw that a company had donated pallets full of cases of eggs to the Bahamas relief effort. They were sitting in the sun in the Bahamas on a runway as I recall. There is no refrigeration there after the storm. I’d expect they all went bad shortly after being unloaded. And now the folks left will have THAT to clean up. Send money DIRECTLY to a well respected NGO working there. Anything other than that is a roll of the dice imho.

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  • Charles Wetterman

    Yes – what Norman said. Thanks

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  • Chris Does What -N- Dining In With Danielle

    Thank you, we are so tired of foundations that say they help, but little to none of the proceeds go to the people in need. You may want to look to these sites to find charities that help. Charity Navigator, Charity Watch, GuideStar and the BBB’s Wise Giving Alliance.

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    • CHRIS DOES WHAT

      See you had them, oops.

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  • Joe Johnson

    Thanks for this common sense, informative article. I am sure if you were to mention a specific Charity or organization that you were supporting, the majority of your adoring followers would chip in the cost of a fancy coffee drink to multiply your donation power.

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  • Norman Frenk

    You two are smart (I have learned!) so thanks for giving these kinds of posts/updates! Its good to not only find someone who cares as much as I do about the environment, disaster relief, etc., but someone who is even smarter than I that can post about it succinctly and to many folks!

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    • Meg Magruder

      Yes … Norman is right…

      reply

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