As I contemplate writing my monthly UBJ column, I am hit with a flood of memories. The day is Thursday, September 21, 1989. My family is pulling out of our driveway on Sullivan’s Island along with our dog, Lacey, boxes of photos, suitcases of clothing, beloved stuffed animals and as many cherished mementos as two cars can hold. We are heading west to escape the wrath of Hurricane Hugo. And while it might seem trivial, I clearly remember saying “good-bye” to seven recently planted Japanese pine trees and the giant water oak, which graced our front yard.

The next day I sat traumatized in a restaurant in Aiken not knowing what the future held for my family. With a twist of fate, I overheard a conversation. A young man was discussing his plans to fly over the SC coast the following day. Without missing a beat, I turned around and boldly asked if my husband and I could join him on this exploratory flight. This experience turned out to be one of the most powerful and emotional of my life.

As history reports there was extensive damage on Sullivan’s Island and beyond, but this does not capture what we saw that day. We flew over the houses of friends and neighbors…wordless, with tears in our eyes. And when we finally spotted our home, we shouted and pointed, “There it is! It is still standing…” We didn’t care that the roof was down to bare wood and that our treasured oak tree had no leaves. We had a home to go back to.

So why do I share this story now? On May 20, Moore, Oklahoma was in the path of an EF5 tornado. 24 people lost their lives…10 were children. 12,000 buildings were damaged or destroyed. As you can imagine this recent tragedy hit close to home for me.

I want to encourage those listening to and watching the 24-7 news coverage detailing the devastation to consider how they can effectively help the community of Moore. A friend posed this very question.

How do you recommend I support the victims of the Moore Tornado and other natural disasters? I want to be sure my donations reach those truly in need. ~Chris

Chris, as with other forms of philanthropy, disaster giving should be a thoughtful process. Consider when and where your support will be the most impactful. I recently read an enlightening article by Cynthia Strauss, Director of Research for Fidelity Charitable where she defines disaster relief in the following four phases:


Phase 1 Immediate

From disaster
to 6 months
Restoring order to the area


Phase 2 Intermediate

Days afterwards
to 1-2 years
Stabilization and return to daily activities


Phase 3 Long-term

Weeks afterwards
to 5-15 years
Rebuilding for a better future


Phase 4 Preparedness

Emergency risk reduction and prevention

You must first decide which phase you want to support, and then use the following tips to select a worthy organization and avoid being scammed:

  • Request detailed information about the organization. Be wary of charities that refuse to provide this information.
  • Research the organization. Search online using the words “complaints” or “scam” to learn about its reputation. Be wary of organizations that have names that are “too” similar to reputable groups.
  • Contact organizations such as Charity Navigator and GuideStar.
  • Be wary of charities that use high-pressure tactics.
  • Visit the IRS website to identify organizations that are eligible to receive tax-deductible contributions.
  • Always keep records of your donations. Be wary of charities that thank you for a pledge you don’t remember making.
  • Never send cash donations or wire money. Do not provide credit card numbers, bank accounts or other personal information until you’ve thoroughly researched the charity.
  • Be wary of charities that spring up immediately following a disaster. While they may be legitimate, they probably don’t have the infrastructure to get the donations to the affected area or people.

In general, donations made for Phase 1 support are better implemented by national or international organizations. These groups can assemble the necessary resources from outside the disaster area and can act quickly. Groups to consider for the Moore Tornado are the American National Red Cross, AmeriCares, and Direct Relief International. Donations to the Red Cross will be directed to overall disaster relief, unless you specify a particular disaster.

When making donations to impact a disaster during Phases 2 – 4, I encourage you to donate to a community-based group. To find the right organization, visit the local United Way and community foundation websites to learn about their nonprofit partners. For the Moore Tornado, consult with the Oklahoma City Community Foundation and the United Way of Central Oklahoma.

As I close, I take a deep breath. This past week, the 2013 Atlantic hurricane season began. For the past 24 years on June 1st I reflect on how fortunate my family was during and after Hugo. We couldn’t move back into our home for more than nine months, however, we had insurance, a place to stay, the support of family and friends and most importantly we were all safe. Unfortunately, this is not always the case for those in the path of natural disasters.

Until next time,

Thank you to the Upstate Business Journal (UBJ) for inviting me to be a regular contributor to their publication. My goal in writing this column is to share my passion for nonprofits by bringing to light relevant information and success stories. This column is presented in a question and answer format. So whether you are a nonprofit professional, an active community volunteer or someone just looking for a way to get involved, I want to hear from you. I invite you to read all of my UBJ columns here.