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Giving to Maui disaster relief and who to avoid

When crises hit around the world, as one has in Hawaii, Christians are often first in line to help. At times like these, we should engage our mind as well as our heart.

The horrific scenes coming from Maui — and news that at least 90 people have died — have caused many of our readers to ask, “How can I help?”

This request does not surprise me. When crises hit around the world, as one has in Hawaii, Christians are often first in line to help. That’s a very good thing.

However, there’s a reason the Bible tells us to love God with our mind as well as our heart. At times like these, we should engage both. Below are a few principles and tips to keep in mind as you give to Maui relief efforts. We also have our assessment of some ministries that are raising funds to help.

The old rules apply: Just because there’s a crisis, that doesn’t mean a ministry that has been poorly run suddenly becomes well run. In fact, often a crisis causes a weak organization to break. That’s why, even amid crisis and urgent appeals, you should take an extra moment to do your homework. MinistryWatch gives ministries a Donor Confidence Score, a Financial Efficiency Rating and a Transparency Grade. (You can search on a ministry and check their scores here.) Don’t give money to poorly rated ministries or to ministries that don’t share enough information to produce a rating.

Beware of “matching gifts” or “challenge gifts.” These sorts of giving schemes can be legitimate, but in times of crisis, they are often used to heighten the sense of urgency. Educate yourself about challenge gifts and matching gifts by clicking here.

Boots on the ground. When a crisis erupts in a far corner of the world, it is too late to establish a presence there. Ministries that are the most effective are those that have already been operating there. They have “boots on the ground”: personnel, partners, processes and infrastructure. Give to these ministries.

Ask where the money is going. Ministries with a real plan should be able to tell you where the money is going. If the fundraising appeal doesn’t specifically say so, ask. If the ministry doesn’t respond with clear and specific answers, it’s possible it is just using the crisis opportunistically, hoping for a financial windfall.

Individual ministries with high Donor Confidence Scores

We have compiled a list of ministries that have deep expertise in relief and development efforts, and who have high ratings from MinistryWatch. All of the ministries on this list have a “Give With Confidence” score from MinistryWatch.

Operation Blessing has our top Financial Efficiency Rating (5 Stars) and an A Transparency Grade. You can give to this ministry with confidence that the dollars will go where they are supposed to go. 

Convoy of Hope has a good Financial Efficiency Rating (4 Stars out of 5) and an A Transparency Grade. However, it has a Donor Confidence Score of 64, “Give With Caution.” Before giving, make sure you know that the ministry has ongoing efforts in Hawaii to ensure that the money is going where it is supposed to go.

World Vision is working in Hawaii in a variety of ways. (Read more here.) World Vision has a Transparency Grade of A, 4 out of 5 Stars for Financial Efficiency, and a Donor Confidence Score of 78, or “Give With Confidence.”

Ministries we wish we could recommend but don’t

Other ministries have been quick to respond, but because of a lack of transparency, we are not enthusiastic about recommending them. They include:

Billy Graham Evangelistic Association’s Rapid Response Team does good work, but because BGEA doesn’t release its Form 990s to the public, we give it a Transparency Grade of C. It also has a low Financial Efficiency Rating: 2 Stars out of 5. Its overall Donor Confidence Score is 33, which means we recommend to donors they should “Withhold Giving.”

Withhold giving from these organizations

Mercury One has been aggressive in its fundraising efforts to evangelicals, but it is not a Christian organization, and its association with other questionable organizations (Operation Underground Railroad and The Nazarene Fund) cause us to recommend that Christians withhold giving from this organization.

 This article was originally published at Ministry Watch.

Warren Cole Smith is the editor in chief of Ministry Watch and previously served as Vice President of WORLD News Group, publisher of WORLD Magazine and has more than 30 years of experience as a writer, editor, marketing professional, and entrepreneur. Before launching a career in Christian journalism 20 years ago, Smith spent more than seven years as the Marketing Director at PricewaterhouseCoopers.