It's hard to watch the suffering gripping Japan without feeling the urge to act, to give.
"We encourage everyone to respond to that urge they feel to help because that feeling will go away," said M.J. Smith, director of affiliate foundations at the Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque.
But local philanthropy experts advise caution, or you could become another victim. Here are some donating do's and don'ts to get the most good out of your gift:
- Don't give money to an organization that doesn't clearly define how it spends your money, says Ron Spillane, executive director of United Way in Dubuque. Smith offers this rule of thumb: At least 85 to 90 cents of every dollar should go to direct care or direct rebuilding.
- Don't respond to unsolicited e-mails requesting donations.
- Do check with your local church to find out where their donations are being directed.
- Do take advantage of the resources available from charity watchdogs like the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance, the American Institute of Philanthropy, Charity Navigator and GuideStar. (Credit Union National Association)
- Do consider how you want your money to be used. Some organizations specialize in the immediate response, while others focus on rebuilding or other needs.
- Do find out how the charities stack up. The American Institute of Philanthropy grades charities based on the portion of their budget going to program services and their fundraising efficiency. These organizations are among the watchdog's top-rated charities currently involved -- or mobilized to provide assistance if needed -- in the relief efforts in Japan: American Red Cross, CARE, Church World Service, Direct Relief International & Foundation and Habitat for Humanity International.