KCBD INVESTIGATES: Disaster Donations - KCBD NewsChannel 11 Lubbock

KCBD INVESTIGATES: Disaster Donations

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LUBBOCK, TX (KCBD) -

Generous people have stepped forward to help during all kinds of recent disasters, including the Oklahoma tornadoes, the devastating explosion in West, and the bombing at the Boston Marathon.

Charities are offering new convenient ways to donate, but where do those donations really go?

KCBD NewsChannel 11 examined records from a variety of different charities to see exactly what percentage of their disaster funds go towards assisting victims.

During the course of our investigation, we found that one well-known charity has been criticized for its lack of transparency. We contacted the Salvation army to get their response to the claims.

Charity Navigator, a site that lists the percentage of funds actually go to help disaster victims, offers the following disclaimer, singling out the Salvation Army:

"We lack sufficient data to evaluate their financial health. We know many donors are interested in this organization and have asked the Salvation Army to submit their financial data for review and they have elected to decline, as they are allowed under federal law."

The Salvation Army was established as a faith-based organization and is therefore not required to disclose their finances to the public. So we contacted Texas Salvation Army headquarters and sat down with Major Tim Grider, who says they are willing to be transparent...

KCBD obtained the Salvation Army's tax return for 2011.

It shows a total income of $2,576,107. Their expenses added up to $2,131,045, leaving an excess of $374,549.

So we asked the Salvation Army what is typically done with those remaining funds and any unused disaster relief donations.

Grider says that if excess funds are collected for a particular disaster, then that money stays in the account sat aside for that disaster, unless the individual donor approves a transfer.

"We have funds left over from Katrina we have funds left over from Andrew, Hugo because people put them there so it has to stay there," Grider said.

Grider says they are audited every six months, even though they do not legally have to disclose their financial information.

"It all comes down to can you trust them," said South Plains Better Business Bureau President Greg Linder.

Linder said more than 20 charity websites went up within hours of the Boston bombings, but he says many of those sites were bogus, aimed at taking advantage of national generosity.

He says the BBB constantly monitors charities to make sure they are delivering on what they promise, to help in times of need.

Linder says to be wary of organizations that claim all their funds are used for disaster assistance.

"You know, sometimes it'll claim 100% goes to disaster relief; that's just normally not a possibility," Linder said. "Everybody has administrative costs. They have fundraising cost, the higher that percentage they're saying the more that raises red flags... We understand there are costs involved in running a charity."

Linder offers a word of advice for consumers: donate to a charity with a physical presence in the affected areas.

If you'd like more information about how to protect yourself from becoming a victim of scam, or to find out more about a specific charity, log on to www.give.org. If you'd like to verify whether or not the organization is legally filed as a charity, you can check the organization's tax status at www.irs.gov/app/eos.

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