California Wildfire Donation Policy: No Fine Print, Disclaimer, or Qualification

Direct Relief will use all contributions designated for the California wildfires solely for relief and recovery efforts related to the California wildfires.


California Wildfires

Direct Relief supplies arrive in Butte County, CA to assist wildfire relief efforts. (Drew Fletcher/Direct Relief)

Amid the outpouring of generosity and offers of assistance in the aftermath of catastrophic California wildfires, Direct Relief wishes to note its policy regarding donor-designated contributions.

Direct Relief’s policy regarding any contributions that are designated for the California wildfires is simple:

Direct Relief will use all contributions designated for the California wildfires solely for relief and recovery efforts related to the California wildfires.

Direct Relief’s donation policy includes no fine print, disclaimer, or qualification.

Direct Relief practices have long recognized the importance of enabling donors to communicate their intentions regarding donations and explaining how the organization carefully accounts for and uses designated contributions to honor the donors’ intentions. Direct Relief takes several steps, spelled out below, to ensure that both donors’ intentions and the organization’s use of contributions are clear.

We want this be very clear because, unfortunately, we are aware of far-too-common misleading practices that arise in connection with high profile emergencies that spur people to make contributions – for example, solicitations for a specific event such as the current California fires that include a provision stating that “funds determined to be excess to the needs of this specific event will be redirected to wherever they are needed most.”

Such statements are grossly inconsistent with and effectively nullify the principle that nonprofit organizations must honor donor intent. Obviously, if an organization reserves the unqualified, independent right to determine when and how much such funds are “excess” and where and for what purposes they may be used, the donor’s intent is irrelevant and has no meaning. Such practices noisily exploit a specific tragedy and the public’s desire to help those affected by it while quietly avoiding any duty to do so. Direct Relief does not engage in such practices, never has, and never will.

Ensuring Donor Intent

To ensure that donors communicate their intention regarding a gift, we note that Direct Relief’s online donation page requires that donors consider the options of “wherever needed most” or to designate their gifts by choosing from a drop-down menu that includes “California Wildfires” as the first item among several other particular activities or areas where Direct Relief works and to which donors may also elect to restrict their gift. Other methods of contributions, such as by check or wire transfer that include a “California wildfires” or “California fires” or similar notation in the check memo line or accompanying correspondence also will be considered as an instruction to restrict the gift for this particular response effort.

Similarly, Direct Relief will restrict any funds raised for the California wildfires through Facebook, Twitch or other online platforms to the California wildfire relief effort.

Detailed Accounting for California Wildfire Funds

An internal fund is created with all designated contributions, and all expenditures related to the California Wildfires response are recorded for both internal management and external reporting purposes. Independently audited financial statements are prepared and published annually, but Direct Relief will share current information on its website as events unfold regarding programmatic activities and expenditures.

No California Wildfire Funds Are Used for Fundraising Expenses

A bequest pays 100 percent of Direct Relief’s fundraising expenses. This means that no portion of any California wildfire contribution (or any other contribution) will be used for fundraising purposes.

What Restricted Funds May Be Used For

California wildfire contributions will be used only for California wildfire-related programmatic costs and administrative expenses directly related to California wildfire response activity.

Programmatic costs include those related to purchasing, storing, transporting, and distributing essential medical material to affected areas of California, making financial grants to qualified nonprofit organizations performing work directly related to the wildfires or to eligible classes of persons who are victims of the fires, and the personnel and travel expenses of staff performing, managing, and auditing wildfire relief-assistance functions.

Directly related administrative expenses include credit-card processing fees associated with the receipt of California wildfire contributions; accounting fees associated with managing California wildfire funds; postage related to issuing receipts to California wildfire donors; banking fees related to wire transfers of California wildfire donations; warehousing and packaging of medical material; and IT support costs that are necessary to conduct California wildfire-related programmatic activity (such as inventory management of medical material being provided in the relief effort).

Direct Relief is obligated to – and will always – honor the intent of a donor-designated financial contribution, including, obviously, in this instance with regard to California wildfire contributions.

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