MAUI COUNTY, Hawaii — While rescue and emergency operations continued Thursday at the deadly wildfires that swept across the Hawaiian island of Maui, many people are already looking for ways to support the response and provide relief to those affected.
The full extent of the damage and the recovery needs may not be known for up to a week, said Regine Webster, vice president of the Center for Disaster Philanthropy, and she urged people to be patient before deciding where to give their support.
“You literally have to wait for the firefighters to complete their work before that damage assessment can be fully realized,” she said.
Philanthropy experts recommend giving to experienced organizations that are well-situated to respond to a specific disaster. Major disaster response organizations like the American Red Cross have said they are already communicating with local and federal governments to provide assistance.
Webster also urged potential donors to support organizations with deep local ties and knowledge of the impacted communities.
“To the extent that we can all slow down, wait a week, wait two weeks, to understand where the greatest needs are, and then look toward organizations that are really meeting those needs, again, prioritizing organizations with specific disaster expertise and organizations that are local in nature,” Webster said.
The Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement pledged to match donations — up to $100,000 initially, then increased to $250,000 — for a campaign they began Wednesday, with initial support from the Alakaʻina Foundation Family of Companies. An online tracker shows that more than $331,000 has been given from almost 2,500 people as of Thursday.
The crowdfunding site, GoFundMe, has vetted fundraisers for individuals and families who lost property or were injured in the fires. That means they've taken steps to verify the identify of the organizer and have collected those campaigns on a hub on their website. GoFundMe will take additional verification steps before releasing the funds to the organizer, as well as deduct a transaction fee.
Direct donations to individuals or families can be a powerful way to make an impact, but potential donors should be careful in responding to appeals on social media for donations to individuals, through electronic payment apps like Venmo or Cash App, experts say.
Potential donors should also consider if it's important to them to claim a tax benefit for their donation. Only tax-exempt nonprofit organizations will provide a receipt that people who itemize their taxes can use to claim a deduction.
The Hawaii Community Foundation has also announced $1 million in support for its Maui Strong Fund. It is collaborating with other nonprofits and the county mayor to deploy those funds to pay for food, shelter and financial assistance, the foundation said in a statement, adding it is also accepting donations and would not collect any fees on gifts to the fund.
The Center for Disaster Philanthropy will work closely with the foundation, Webster said, as it launches a fund specific to the Hawaii wildfires that prioritizes equity in recovery.
“We actually will wait several months before we understand the full range of needs that exist on Maui and other islands that are also facing wildfires,” she said. “And we will not invest our funds until such time as we understand what those medium- and long-term needs are.”