#OrlandoUnited: How to Help the Victims of the Orlando Nightclub Shooting

People gather in the Castro District for a vigil for the victims of the Orlando shooting at a gay nightclub, in San Francisco
People gather in the Castro District for a vigil for the victims of the Orlando shooting at a gay nightclub, in San Francisco, California, U.S. June 12, 2016. REUTERS/Stephen Lam - RTX2FV9U
Stephen Lam — Reuters

In $5, $25, and $100 increments, the money is pouring in—a palpable testament to the urge felt by many Americans to help in ways big and small in the wake of the largest mass shooting in U.S. history, in which at least 50 people were killed and 53 others were wounded when a gunman opened fire in an Orlando gay nightclub.

In less than 24 hours, more than 37,000 individuals had by Monday morning donated almost $1.5 million through a GoFundMe page set up by Equality Florida, the state’s largest LBGT advocacy group.

According to an FAQ on Equality Florida’s GoFundMe page, “Every penny raised will be distributed directly to the victims and their families.”

Equality Florida has so far been the primary conduit of the flood of financial donations to victims and their families, but it is not the only one. The Center, an LGBT advocacy group that is providing a crisis hotline (407-227-1446) and grief counselors for people in the Orlando area, also set up a GoFundMe page, which had raised more than $180,000 as of Monday morning. The Center promises that all proceeds will be used to benefit the victims and their families. Planting Peace, a global humanitarian and environmental nonprofit, has also started a CrowdRise campaign, and has raised over $20,000 to cover expenses incurred by the victims and their families.

How will the funds be used to help? Equality Florida has posted that “We are working with a team of attorneys and experts, including the National Center for Victims of Crime, which deployed funds in both Chattanooga and Aurora, to ensure funds are distributed correctly.”

MONEY has contacted all these organizations for more details on how they will be dispersing the funds and will update as more information becomes available.

Are these the most effective ways to use your money to help victims of the tragedy? In general, to make sure you’re donating to an organization that will use your money wisely, conventional wisdom is to look up the group’s financials on CharityNavigator, a site that rates charities based on how efficiently they use donated funds; and Guidestar.org, which focuses on organizational transparency and governance. We recommend sticking with groups that limit their overhead expenses to less than 20% of their budget.

In this case, Equality Florida has pledged to use 100% of the money donated to help victims and their families. Charity Navigator doesn’t rate Equality Florida because Equality Florida it is classified as a 501(c)(4), not a 501(c)(3). (As the site says, this is not a positive or negative distinction, but rather because Equality Florida is classified as a social welfare organization, not a charity or religious organization.) GuideStar, meanwhile, gives Equality Florida it’s highest “gold” rating.

Equality Florida is a relatively small organization, however, and the money raised already far exceeds the group’s initial goal, so some may be looking for other organizations that can make effective use of their donations. Here’s a list of top-rated LGBT non-profits from Charity Navigator.

As we saw after Sandy Hook and other tragedies, criminals have used such events as an opportunity to scam people trying to help. Experts recommend that you never give donations via Facebook or Twitter directly. While it’s ok to learn about an organization’s mission there, always take the extra step to verify where you’re sending money. As per Charity Navigator website:

You should never give your credit card, password or other personal information via these requests for support. Instead, take the time to investigate the groups behind such pleas for help to ensure that it comes from a legitimate nonprofit and then go to that charity’s website to make your donation.”

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