Online help with donation decisions

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President Obama, while viewing the May 20 tornado’s devastation in Moore, Okla., urged Americans to donate money to the American Red Cross disaster relief fund.

It’s good advice, and dozens of charitable organizations are taking contributions to help victims of disasters. Lately, those catastrophes seem to be coming in waves.

In December — two months after Hurricane Sandy tore through the East Coast — we mourned the senseless shooting of school children and teachers in Newtown, Conn. Since then, we’ve seen historic snowstorms, the Boston Marathon bombing, death and destruction from the explosion in West, Texas, and even more death and destruction in Oklahoma.

Red Cross has the most widely recognized brand among American and international relief agencies. While you can’t go far wrong in helping the Red Cross respond to tens of thousands of U.S. disasters each year, other agencies have lower administration costs and more specifically dedicated funding.

One fascinating source of information about charitable organizations is found online at www.charitynavigator.org.

That independent group, itself dependent upon contributions to operate, lists 25 charities providing assistance for victims of the Oklahoma tornado. Of those, 11 earn the website’s highest four-star rating, but only three commit to use all funds raised for this disaster.

Often, charitable groups will raise more than they can use for a specific disaster. Excess funds are saved for other purposes, something seldom known by individual contributors.

Overall, the Red Cross received 59 of a possible 70 points from CharityNavigator. By comparison, Direct Relief, which focuses on medical services, scored 69.91. Financial management issues have contributed to the lower Red Cross ranking, but it appears new management has aggressively addressed most of those issues in recent years.

The Internet has made it easier to research the work of charitable groups, then make contributions that follow our specific interests. CharityNavigator.org displays prominent links to ways you can support current disaster efforts, more general humanitarian work and even such long-term disaster relief efforts as 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, not to mention myriad disaster situations worldwide.

With those resources at hand, there’s no excuse for making contributions based solely on a telephone call from an unknown agency. Some are near-scams that spend almost all money on the fundraising operation itself. But don’t let that stop you from helping America’s disaster victims; plenty of relief agencies need and have earned your support.

Jeb Bladine can be reached at jbladine@newsregister.com or 503-687-1223.

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