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Turkey-Syria earthquake: Charity Navigator CEO explains how to donate to relief efforts

Charity Navigator CEO and President Michael Thatcher joins Yahoo Finance Live to discuss how to find reputable charities to donate to in the wake of natural disasters, tips for having a bigger impact, and how to avoid charity scams.

Video transcript

JULIE HYMAN: And in other news as well today, two days have now passed since that earthquake that devastated parts of Turkey and Syria. The reported death toll has now climbed to 11,000. Nations and aid organizations around the globe have offered help, though there are complications, including conditions on the ground and the years long civil war in Syria.

Michael Thatcher, Charity Navigator CEO and president, is here to provide some insight on the inner workings of getting aid to current crisis. And, of course, Charity Navigator gives a rating system for people to look at different charities and how they would like to try to contribute to help with this crisis and with so many others.


Michael, thank you so much for being here. As I mentioned, there are some complications here. There's the war in Syria. There's the border, which is tricky between Syria and Turkey. What do people need to know as they are trying to sift through and figure out how to get aid to where it's needed?

MICHAEL THATCHER: It's a great question. And I think one of the challenges with any disaster is the complications on the ground. We're dealing with a situation of incredible turmoil. We've created a list at, which has a list of highly rated organizations that are experienced in disaster recovery that have-- will address the needs on the ground. The other important thing about this list is if you give money, you know the money is going to the disaster, not just general operating funds. And then also really important, they've got boots on the ground that are actually doing the work.

BRAD SMITH: Are we getting a sense of the not just-- I mean, of course, there's an economic toll within any of these disasters that take place. But how much is really needed at this point to help from people who are willing and are donating right now?

MICHAEL THATCHER: I think the thing to think about with the disaster is that it happens instantly, but then it lasts for years, right? The cleanup from this earthquake, particularly in this part of the world, it's going to take several years before they're actually back on their feet. So making donations now when there's attention, that goes to organizations that will be there for the long haul. So it really does make sense to donate now.

But it also makes sense to think about if you really care about this part of the world, sign up for a recurring donation. Use your credit card. Take a monthly amount. Take a smaller amount out. And then have those funds going into the long-term relief effort.

JULIE HYMAN: Michael, I'm also curious when something happens like this, and there's so much devastation on the ground, sort of the mechanism of actually getting the aid there, how does it work, right? If I give money to an organization, how quickly does it even go to work over there? How does the whole process kind of happen?

MICHAEL THATCHER: It's a great question. And what ends up happening is organizations, some of these larger-- particularly the larger organizations, they have teams that are ready to deploy, almost like the military in the sense that they're ready. They can get into the ground. They also have relationships built with a lot of governments because that's the other part, is that governments are generally coordinating the relief efforts. And then the aid agencies plug into that. You want to find an organization that's done this before because that's not self evident.

BRIAN SOZZI: Michael, how can one spot any fraudulent activity or just avoid scam-like things that will pop up inevitably from this?

MICHAEL THATCHER: It's a heartache that people will take advantage of a terrible situation like this. We have 11,000 people that have died. There are a lot of-- one of the things to look out for are look-alike charities, people that are spoofing the name of a well-known organization. Again, the safest way to protect yourself is to go through a third party intermediary, like Charity Navigator. We don't charge any money. Everything's free. We help you find an organization. We also won't let you give to a fake charity. So it's really the spoofing that's probably the biggest risk.

The other area where you can come under-- with the suspicious is individuals asking. I would give to a known entity, particularly in a situation like the earthquake, because it's complicated actually getting the help to people.

BRAD SMITH: How do you go about ranking in priority, at least, when those funds are received, where they get disbursed to?

MICHAEL THATCHER: So at Charity Navigator, we're looking at four key areas in our assessments. We're looking at leadership and adaptability, culture and community, accountability and finance, and then finally impact and results. With that, we do a scoring system of 0 to 4 stars. Our lists, particularly the list for the earthquake, it's 3 and 4 star rated charities. So the top rated organizations, those are the ones that we're actually promoting so that people can find an organization that's actually making a difference in this part of the world.

BRAD SMITH: Really important role that you all at Charity Navigator are playing right now, as well as all of those involved in the recovery effort here. Thank you so much for joining us here today. We appreciate the time. Michael Thatcher joining us on here on Yahoo Finance.

MICHAEL THATCHER: Thank you very much.