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Guide to giving money, goods and services in Harvey's wake

Posted August 31

— Local and national charities are asking for help as Hurricane Harvey pounded Texas and Louisiana, leaving countless residents — and pets — displaced from their homes.

While the urge to donate clothes and other supplies is natural, money is the best way to contribute during times of disaster, charities and philanthropy experts say. And donating directly through a website gets money to a charity faster than a text donation, even though the text might seem easier.

Here's how to make sure you are giving in a way that matters the most.

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GIVE TO ESTABLISHED RELIEF AGENCIES

GuideStar's website has a database that lets you vet charities .

Stacy Palmer, editor of The Chronicle of Philanthropy, also suggests looking at a charity's website for information on how it will use donations. And look through local news reports for information on a charity's work, or contact the local United Way and the local Community Foundation — in this case Houston's.

It's up to you whether to go with a local charity that might know the area better, or a national charity that has wider reach. Palmer says "both kinds of organizations have their place right now."

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TEXTING TO GIVE?

It might be tempting to make a donation through text and have the phone company charge it on your phone bill. But Palmer says charities have to wait for phone companies to release the money. It's quicker if you go to the charity's website and donate directly, using a credit or debit card.

That said, relief agencies will need money beyond first few days or even weeks, so if the ease of text donations appeals to you, tap away. To donate $10 to the Red Cross via text, send a text message saying "REDCROSS" to the number 90999.

Apple users in the U.S. can also donate to the American Red Cross through the company's iTunes and app stores.

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TIMING

Donations often pour in immediately after disaster strikes but peter out during the long recovery process. While there are a lot of immediate needs, Palmer says, "charities are going to need support on the long haul."

Consider saving some of your money so you can donate again in a few weeks or months. Better yet, set up a recurring donation to support your chosen charity over time.

Some charities will say when they have raised enough for a particular disaster and use any extra money for their general fund, Palmer says. This isn't bad.

"One of the things this disaster shows is that it's important to have resilience," she says. "It's smart to just give and say that it can be used wherever it's most needed."

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CROWDFUNDING

Group fundraising services such as GoFundMe let people raise money for friends, families, neighbors or themselves — as well as for charity. As always, do your homework before giving to a stranger or cause online.

GoFundMe has a special page for Hurricane Harvey pleas for charities, individuals and families. GlobalGiving, a crowdfunding site for charities, is trying to raise $2 million for local relief and recovery efforts.

Remember that donations are tax-deductible only if they go to a registered non-profit or charity. Otherwise, they are generally considered gifts.

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HOLD OFF ON MATERIAL DONATIONS

Donating food, clothing and household items can complicate and even hinder relief efforts, experts say. The U.S. Center for Disaster Information says unsolicited goods are "never required in early stages of response, and they compete with priority relief items for transportation and storage."

It doesn't mean there will never be a time or place for such donations — check with relief agencies as time passes. And a few charities have announced immediate needs for material donations; the Houston Humane Society has set up an Amazon wish list for the most needed items.

You can also consider volunteering or opening your homes to displaced families and emergency workers. Airbnb is waiving service fees and a requirement that hosts charge at least $10 a night; free accommodations are permitted in selected area.

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CONSIDER SPECIAL NEEDS

Consider donating to charities that focus on vulnerable populations, such as seniors, the disabled, children and even pets.

The Texas Diaper Bank says diapers (whether for babies or adults) are not provided by disaster relief agencies. Again, these charities need money — not boxes of diapers you picked up at Costco.

Save The Children is setting up "child-friendly spaces" inside shelters to give kids a safe area to play, get support from trained experts and "get a sense of normalcy" during disasters, spokeswoman Jordyn Linsk said. The organization is also distributing infant and toddler supplies.

Portlight Strategies helps people with disabilities, older adults and their families recover after disasters.

To help animals, check the San Antonio Humane Society, which has set up an emergency fund for pets and strays, or the Houston Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals . And the Houston Humane Society needs money, too.

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RELIGIOUS AND HUMANITARIAN GROUPS

Some of the religious organizations are "some of the strongest relief groups," Palmer says.

Those accepting donations include Catholic Charities USA, International Orthodox Christian Charities , Islamic Relief USA , the Jewish Federations of North America and Tzu Chi USA , a humanitarian organization with Buddhist roots.

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CHECK OUT MATCHES

Facebook is matching $1 million in donations to the Center for Disaster Philanthropy's Hurricane Harvey Recovery Fund, while Google is matching $1 million in donations to the American Red Cross .

Many companies, including Apple and the Walt Disney Co., are also matching employee donations.

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