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Updated August 27, 2007

Earthquake and tsunami victims in southeast AsiaThe American Institute of Philanthropy (AIP) announces its top-rated list of charities currently offering services to the victims of the December 2004 earthquake and tsunami that devastated parts of Southeast Asia. The death toll was estimated at nearly 200,000 and over a million people throughout eight countries were displaced due to the catastrophe. Two and a half years after the disaster, a tremendous amount of assistance is still needed.

The American Institute of Philanthropy (AIP) announces its top-rated list of charities offering aid to the over one million displaced people. AIP, a leading charity watchdog that issues letter grade (A+ to F) ratings of nonprofit groups, identifies the following relief charities, which are providing aid to the victims that receive an “A” or “B” grade based on the portion of their budget going to program services and their fundraising efficiency:
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All of these charities perform favorably in relation to AIP’s benchmarks:
1) A charity should spend at least 75% of its budget on program services.
2) Charities should spend no more than $25 to raise $100.

Once you have selected a charity, make sure the charity has not already received sufficient funds for tsunami disaster relief. For example, the American Red Cross has announced that it has enough money to fund a 10 year recovery plan. Doctors Without Borders has also raised enough money for its tsunami response. Do keep in mind that some charities have programs for longer-term aid such as rebuilding basic infrastructures that may not be fully funded. Thus, you may still donate to charities involved in long-term development efforts (a list of other areas in crisis can be found on Hot Topics!) or find another charity that needs emergency relief funds.

You may also contact the charity to find out if they provide the specific types of aid that you would like to fund, e.g., emergency relief, health care, infrastructure development, education, etc.

The FBI has issued a special fraud alert related to the tsunami disaster relief. There are reports of fake websites pretending to be legitimate relief organizations and unsolicited emails requesting deposits of money in overseas banks to support relief efforts.

Additionally, donors should be wary of unsolicited emails from individuals claiming to be victims of the disaster. AIP advises against giving directly to such victims and urges donors to contribute to charities involved in disaster relief efforts. The charities are better equipped to identify individual victims and direct assistance and aid appropriately.

As always, exercise precaution when donating online. To ensure that the website is legitimate, verify that the organization's website address is the exact same address that is displayed in your browser's address bar. Even the slightest variation (such as the use of underscores instead of dashes between words) may indicate an imposter. If there is any doubt, call the charity to confirm the correct website address. It is best to manually type in the organization's website address in the address bar because simply clicking a link in an email or on an unfamiliar website may take you to a fraudulent website.

Look for a padlock icon (your browser may use another symbol) on the bottom right hand corner of your screen to determine whether a site is secure for credit card donations. If there is any concern about the site's legitimacy or security, call the charity. Some charities may use an outside Internet credit card vendor to process credit card donations. Again, the donor should verify this before contributing online. Of course, sending a check directly to the charity greatly reduces the possibility of being scammed.

It is best to contribute to only those charities with an established track record of helping people in this region. Due to the magnitude of this disaster, it is important to be especially aware that disreputable, fly-by-night “charities” are set up to take advantage of the public’s generosity.

Devastation in Southeast AsiaThe best way to help is by sending a check. Cash donations enable charities to buy the most needed type of food, medicine, clothing, shelter materials and other supplies. By buying relief products locally or regionally, charities can reduce shipping costs and more rapidly deliver assistance. Before sending any goods, first contact the charity to find out if they are appropriate and if it will be cost effective to distribute them. For example, during the Bosnian War (1992–1996), 37.5 million pounds of inappropriate medicines were donated.


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