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What to consider when giving in times of crisis

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For many people, charitable giving is an unshakable value. Motivations for living generously vary, but a core driver is often empathy, particularly in sharing what you have with people in need.

Compassion often comes out in full force when a disaster strikes. Humanitarian, environmental and happenchance events may move you to action. However, it's a good idea to pause and consider how to donate effectively when giving in times of crisis. While you can't predict what will happen or when, you can have a sketched-out plan for how you'll approach reactionary giving in a way that fits with your overall financial and charitable goals.

Thinking through who you're giving to, what they're going to do with it and how you can do the most good allows you to be strategic with your time, money and other donations.

When giving, vet that the organization is legitimate

If a crisis strikes locally, the avenues for giving may feel familiar and comfortable enough for you not to question them. But especially when the disaster or other event is widespread—whether regional, national or global—nefarious groups may try to take advantage of the moment for their own gain. Excluding long-standing and well-known organizations, it can be difficult to tell who's running a group or exactly how they're using donations.

Before handing over cash and goods or showing up to help, do a bit of research into the organization's legitimacy. One starting point is to find out if anyone vouches for them. While there isn't a single master registry, there are a few resources you can turn to:

  • The Internal Revenue Service maintains a searchable database of tax-exempt charitable organizations.
  • The people behind Charity Navigator regularly sift through groups to provide ratings and create lists you can search and browse by cause, popularity and timeliness.
  • If you're a Thrivent client with membership, Thrivent Choice® can ensure your Choice Dollars® reach vetted organizations. Even if you aren’t a Thrivent client, you can use the catalog to help vet organizations to donate to.

If an organization isn't on these or other lists you consult, that doesn't mean they're not OK. They could still be completely genuine. For example, groups formed in immediate reaction to a recent crisis may not have had time to get a highly rated, vetted status. So you may need to gather information from other sources.

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Website & social media accounts can be revealing

Sometimes a few minutes of internet searching can tell you a lot about an organization. If you can't find their home page or if it's populated with confusing information, it can be a sign they're not aboveboard. Most trustworthy organizations provide detailed information on who's running their operations, what services they provide, where they're located, how to contact them and how they spend donation dollars.

Beyond their website, you can get a fuller picture of an organization by checking out what they've posted on social media—and what others have posted about them. A legitimate charity will likely feature believable and documented information about how they work and the people they've helped.

Evaluate the organization's impact

In addition to making sure a charity is valid, you'll likely want to know more about what, exactly, they do and how well it aligns with your intentions. To decide how to get the most out of your time, talents or treasures, it can help to dig into a few key questions.

What's the organization's track record?

One way to approach your donation decision is to focus on charities that provide the largest possible impact on the affected community. Some organizations are great at collecting donated dollars and gathering volunteers, but they may help only a select few people or provide fundamentally unnecessary items or services. Your donations may go farther if you go with an organization that has a proven track record of delivering essential aid efficiently to a broad cross-section of the community.

Do your values line up with one group or multiple?

As you look at charities, you may find one that closely aligns with your values. That can make your decision about where to get involved straightforward. But more likely, you'll find yourself having to choose between a few charities that meet your values in different ways, and it may feel difficult to pick one.

You might select one over the others, or you might split your time and donations among them—there's really no wrong way to give. It's up to you if you want to focus on one charity for deeper engagement and, potentially, a more substantial impact or if you'd rather spread a broad reach across a few charities that provide different areas of service.

Is it more worthwhile to give now or later?

It's common for a community that's been affected by a crisis to see an immediate influx of assistance that tapers off once the news cycle changes. While reactive donations are certainly necessary, it's also important to realize that recovery can take a lot of time. It may be months, if not years, before things feel like they've returned to normal.

With that in mind, you may decide you want to spread your giving strategy over a longer term. You might achieve this by giving something right away and then checking back after a month or so to see what else is needed or by setting up repeat donations. You might also decide to sign up for regular volunteering until the crisis is resolved or look for other ways you can get involved in the community.

Consider how you can donate most effectively

Part of your giving strategy needs to factor in ways your actions can be most useful to the cause. Here are some things to think about when you're helping with crisis-relief efforts:

  • Give what's needed. In the flurry of disaster responses, organizations may get too much of one kind of donation and not enough of another. Also, some charities are specific about what goods they accept and what work volunteers can do. For maximum effectiveness, find out what kind of help the group needs most.
  • Know before you go. Your desire to help may be so great that you want to show up on-site and dive right in. But not having the proper training or guidance could put you at risk and hinder the response. Disaster management agencies and charitable organizations will make it known when they're ready for hands-on help.
  • Collaborate and coordinate. Turning your compassion for helping into a group project is an easy way to amplify your impact. Team up as you give back by gathering people you know to help with the effort. Or consider group volunteer opportunities like Thrivent's partnership with Habitat for Humanity, which provides needed aid in domestic disaster recovery locations.
  • Take care of yourself. Engaging in disaster relief efforts can be demanding. Don't give so much that you endanger your own well-being physically, emotionally or financially.

Maximize the impact of your donations

A commitment to giving is a testament to your values and goals. By thinking strategically about how to donate effectively during disasters, you can maximize your giving, support the needs of others and build a legacy of generosity.

Working with an expert can help you develop a long-term plan to align your charitable giving with your financial strategy. Connect with a local Thrivent financial advisor to learn more.

The Thrivent Choice® charitable grant program engages Thrivent members and Thrivent Member Networks in providing grants that support charitable activities, furthering Thrivent's mission and its purposes under state law. All grant decisions, including grant recipients and amounts, are made at the sole discretion of Thrivent. Directing Choice Dollars® is subject to the program's terms and conditions available at

Member benefits and programs are not guaranteed contractual benefits. The interpretation of the provisions of these benefits and programs is at the sole discretion of Thrivent. Thrivent reserves the right to change, modify, discontinue, or refuse to provide any of the membership benefits or any part of them, at any time.