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Opinion: Giving To Maui Disaster Relief – And Who To Avoid

By Warren Cole Smith
hawaii fires
Waiola Church Hall / Home of Pūnana Leo ʻO Lahaina and Lahaina Hongwanji Mission on Maui, Hawaii. (Photo via Instagram / Kāko'o Haleakalā)

The horrific scenes coming from Maui – and news that at least 90 people have died – have caused many of our readers to ask: How can I help?

This request does not surprise me. When crisis hits around the world, as it has in Hawaii, Christians are often first in line to help. That’s a very good thing.

However, there’s a reason the Bible tells us to love God with our mind as well as our heart.  At times like these, we should engage both. Below are a few principles and tips to keep in mind as you give to Maui relief efforts. We at MinistryWatch also have our assessment of some ministries that are raising funds to help.

The Old Rules Apply.  Just because there’s a crisis, that doesn’t mean a ministry that has been poorly run suddenly becomes well-run.  In fact, often a crisis causes a weak organization to break.  That’s why even in the midst of crisis and urgent appeals, take an extra moment to do your homework. MinistryWatch gives ministries a Donor Confidence Score, a Financial Efficiency Rating, and a Transparency Grade. (You can search on a ministry and check their scores here.) Don’t give money to poorly rated ministries, or to ministries that do share enough information to produce a rating.

Beware of “Matching Gifts” or “Challenge Gifts.” These sorts of giving schemes can be legitimate, but in times of crisis, they are often used to heighten the sense of urgency.  Educate yourself about Challenge Gifts and Matching Gifts by clicking here.

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Boots on the Ground.  When crisis erupts in a far corner of the world, it is too late to establish a presence there.  Ministries that are the most effective are those who have already been operating there. They have “boots on the ground”:  personnel, partners, processes, and infrastructure.  Give to these ministries.

Ask: Where Is the Money Going?  Ministries with a real plan should be able to tell you where the money is going.  If the fundraising appeal doesn’t specifically say so, ask.  If the ministry doesn’t respond with clear and specific answers, it’s possible it is just using the crisis opportunistically, hoping for a financial windfall.

Individual Ministries With High Donor Confidence Scores

We have compiled a list of ministries that have deep expertise in relief and development efforts, and who have high ratings from MinistryWatch. All of the ministries on this list have a “Give With Confidence” score from MinistryWatch.

Operation Blessing has our top Financial Efficiency Rating (5 Stars) and an A Transparency Grade. You can give to this ministry with confidence that the dollars will go where they are supposed to go. 

Convoy of Hope has a good Financial Efficiency Rating (4 Stars out of 5) and an A Transparency Grade. However, it has a Donor Confidence Score of 64, “Give With Caution.” Before giving, make sure you know that the ministry has ongoing efforts in Hawaii to ensure that the money is going where it is supposed to go.

World Vision is working in Hawaii in a variety of ways. (Read more here.) World Vision has a Transparency Grade of A, 4 out of 5 Stars for Financial Efficiency, and a Donor Confidence Score of 78, or “Give With Confidence.”

MAP International is sending what it calls “Disaster Health Kits” to Hawaii. They contain first aid kits, soap, and other essential health items. MAP International has earned a 5-Star Financial Efficiency Rating from MinistryWatch, our highest rating. It also has an “A” Transparency Grade and a “Give With Confidence” Donor Confidence Score.

Ministries We Wish We Could Recommend But Don’t

Other ministries have been quick to respond, but because of a lack of transparency we are not enthusiastic about recommending them. The include:

Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. BGEA’s Rapid Response Team does good work, but because BGEA doesn’t release its Form 990s to the public, we give it a Transparency Grade of C. It also has a low Financial Efficiency Rating: 2 Stars out of 5. It’s overall Donor Confidence Score is 33, which means we recommend to donors they should “Withhold Giving.”

Withhold Giving From These Organizations

Mercury One has been aggressive in its fundraising efforts to evangelicals, but it is not a Christian organization and its association with other questionable organizations (Operation Underground Railroad and The Nazarene Fund) cause us to recommend that Christians withhold giving from this organization.

This article was originally published at Ministry Watch and does not necessarily represent the views of The Roys Report.

warren cole smithWarren Cole Smith is president of, a donor watchdog group. Prior to that, Smith was Vice President-Mission Advancement for the Colson Center for Christian Worldview.  



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One Response

  1. We live in Hawaii and have friends who have lost everything. What happened in Lahaina cannot be described with words. There has been an overwhelming outpouring of support and love from the local people, but getting through the government regulations and red tape has been the biggest challenge. If local authorities would just get out of the way many needs could be met by the people of Hawaii. Lahaina was a very unique place in Hawaii. I hope this does not give opportunists a chance to make a buck, or developers a chance to buy up land. There is so much going on beneath the surface of this disaster. The death toll is nowhere near the actual loss of life.

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