MONEY & TRAGEDY | Tracking donations during natural disasters

MONEY & TRAGEDY | Tracking donations during natural disasters

BALTIMORE (WBFF) - FOX45's Crime & Justice reporter Joy Lepola tracked the trail of donor dollars to natural disasters, and the disruption to big charities that could impact how the money is spent.

In flood-ravaged Texas, charities got millions of dollars from donors who wanted to help families like the McLawlons.

"We just packed our bags; we just went," they said.

Floods from Hurricane Harvey almost destroyed their Houston home.

"I mean, it's devastating see your baby blocks floating through sewage water, you know," said Rachel McLawlon.

The Red Cross provided the family with $400 in relief assistance.

"Our intent is not to just go hand out financial assistance but to have an organized approach," explained the Red Cross.

Based on a report the Red Cross recently published in the first month after Harvey, the organization raised $450 million in donations.

FOX45 asked how much of that money actually went directly to those relief efforts.

The organization said "when someone donates..., on average 91 percent of every dollar given goes directly to the clients we're trying to serve."

Four cents of each dollar went to administrative costs and five cents to fundraising.

Nine cents may not sound like much but in Harvey relief alone, $31.5 million has gone toward overhead costs. Another $160 million has been set aside for long-term recovery programs.

The Red Cross was criticized after a major earthquake in Haiti, when people accused the charity of funneling relief money to other needs in the organization.

Watchdog group Charity Navigator analyzed the finances of non-profits.

Charities got $390 billion last year, according to Charity Navigator, which ranks charities based on their spending habits.

While the Red Cross spends nine cents on administrative costs, the Salvation Army spends nearly twice that much.

Catholic Relief Services spends six cents on fundraising and administrative costs.

Even before recent natural disasters, some donors had started to doubt how their donations were spent.

While accountability and transparency are just as important to donors as it was years ago, donors expect more than a tax form or star rating as evidence their money is being spent on what matters to them.

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