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5 Tips for Donating After Disasters
After our investigation of the Red Cross’ work in Haiti, readers have repeatedly asked us for tips on giving. Here are a few modest answers
 
Earlier this month ProPublica published an investigation with NPR into the American Red Cross' failures in Haiti. We've gotten a lot of questions from readers (including on Reddit) wondering what to do next time a big disaster hits.
 
What should you do if you want to help? To whom should you send money?
 
There's no simple answer. And there is no one-stop shop that can answer those questions.
 
But if you're willing to put in a bit of time, you can be a more informed donor and increase the chances that your money will reach those in need.
 
Here are a few tips, based on conversations with experts and reporting in Haiti:
 
Research before you give.
 
Take the time to read up on your group — this can be as simple as a few Google searches and checking out information compiled by various charity watchdogs. Have there been any issues with management? Has the group performed well in the past? Has it had problems? The answers to these questions can inform your choices.
 
If you do give, you can demand meaningful transparency.
 
Nonprofit organizations are generally required to make only broad disclosures about their finances. (The American Red Cross' annual tax return, for example, doesn't reveal anything at all about its Haiti program.)
 
But as a donor, you can ask the organization you're giving to to make public, detailed disclosures about their spending.
 
As Haiti aid expert Jake Johnston pointed out in our Reddit AMA discussion, you can also ask elected officials to exercise their own oversight of charities that raise money after disasters.
 
Local groups or those that have deep local ties can be the best option
 
One issue that came up again and again in our Haiti reporting is that the American Red Cross did not have significant experience working in Haiti, hindering its efforts to operate in the country. We also heard about groups — some large, some small — that had been in the country for decades and employed Haitians in top positions. They tended to be more successful.
 
As Francois Pierre-Louis, a political science professor and former community organizer in Haiti added on Reddit, donors can "work with local organizations that are connected with the population. Too often these groups are not even recognized."
 
So if you're considering giving to a group, it's worth doing a bit of research to see what kind of experience it has in the country in question.
 
There are options beyond traditional charities.
 
While the idea remains the subject of much debate, some in the aid world are now advocating simply giving money to those in need.
 
Think beyond the next disaster
 
Jonathan Katz, a reporter who wrote the book on the troubled post-earthquake relief efforts in Haiti, argues that it's the time between disasters when the most important work has to be done. From his book:
 
"Poverty and a lack of local institutions create the shoddy conditions that make disasters deadlier than they have to be...Supporting efforts to give aid directly to local governments, and the goal of building local institutions that operate independently of foreign control, will go exponentially further than cargo planes of tarps and bottled water. It's true that we don't always know what locals will do with that assistance, but that's the point. It's up to them."
 
Courtesy: ProPublica.org
 

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Quicken Loans Facing Fines for Alleged Misleading Mailings
Yet another cautionary tale about official-looking mail- these aimed at service members
 
 
An eagle encircled by two dozen red stars and a watermark with the words “United States Veterans Department” — this missive must come from the government, right? Wrong.
 
In truth, the letter is a solicitation for a “prequalified” mortgage loan from Quicken Loans. But it’s that confusion that officials in the state of Washington say potentially misled millions of active military members, veterans and their families who received this letter and others like it from the mortgage lender last year.
 
“Their mailings suggest that they are an official government mailing through the use of prominent seals,” said Charles E. Clark, director of the Washington State Department of Financial Institutions (DFI), which brought charges against Quicken Loans last week. “It crosses the line to where the ads imply that it’s an official government mailing.”
 
 
The DFI alleges that the solicitations violated several state and federal laws prohibiting false, deceptive and misleading advertising. In addition to the watermark that it claims closely resembles the actual seal of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (see above), the DFI alleges that the mailings contained various inadequate disclosures relating to the financial terms of the loan offer, including deceptive representations of rates and points.
 
 
Clark said in an interview with TINA.org that the investigation into the lender, which remains ongoing, started after a consumer forwarded the department a copy of one Quicken Loan mailing.
 
The alleged violations carry a $500,000 fine. The DFI is also seeking to stop the company from distributing any direct mail solicitations to service members and veterans in Washington until Quicken Loans shows evidence it is cleaning up its advertising. The department said it had warned the company in 2014 about the problems it had found but the company didn’t sufficiently respond.
 
Quicken Loans, which claims that it’s the largest VA mortgage lender in the country, said in a statement emailed to TINA.org:
 
While we strongly disagree with several aspects of the State of Washington’s assertions and will address each of them in response to their statement, Quicken Loans has proactively taken steps to ensure all mailings reflect our brand and quality standards.
 
This is not the first time that Washington’s Department of Financial Institutions has gone after a VA lender for alleged misleading loan offers. In 2012, the department reached a settlement with Flagship Financial Group. The settlement awarded more than $100,000 in restitution for borrowers who were in part deceived by a false affiliation with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
 
Find more of our coverage on not-so-official official-looking mail here
 

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