Six expert tips on making the most of charitable giving after a disaster

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CHICAGO -- As one disaster after another struck in recent months, Americans stood up again and again, rolling up their sleeves - and opening their wallets - to help victims in any way they can.

According to one estimate, Americans give away about $1 billion a day on average.

Whether it's contributing to a cause you care about or pitching in to help in the wake of a disaster, we asked philanthropy consultant Lisa Dietlin for tips on how to make the most of your charitable giving:

Plan ahead

Being prepared financially is the first step, whether you're looking to give regularly or help after a disaster strikes. You can include regular giving as part of budgeting your finances, and set aside additional money to contribute after a disaster.

Choose three categories for regular giving

Dietlin suggests you have three categories of giving always at the ready.

Most people like to give to a house of worship, their alma mater or their kids’ school. Then, pick a third charity or organization that means something to you. Whether you choose a global or local charity, Dietlin says you should listen to your head and your heart, and find out what motivates you most.

"Do you want to lift people up? Or do you want to eradicate something?” Dietlin said.

When disaster strikes give stuff locally, money globally

During major disasters, the most effective type of giving depends in part on whether help is needed in your backyard or somewhere far away.

If you want to give things, give to local causes instead of places far away, for the simple reason that it is hard to transport massive quantities of goods.

If you want to give to the bigger disasters, which are often far away, making a financial contribution is the better option, according to Dietlin.

Dietlin describes a call she got recently from Bruno Mars, asking how he could get five semi-trucks full of water to Miami, and on to Puerto Rico, while infrastructure was devastated on the island. It's much easier to get money to places that need it.

Give more to fewer causes

Most people want to know that they’ve made a difference, and by giving to fewer causes, you can be sure that your dollars have a greater impact on the issue.

"When their head hits the pillow at the end of the day, they want to go to bed knowing that they helped somebody," Dietlin said.

Give directly to aid organizations

The best way to donate: go directly to websites for familiar charities or relief organizations. Instead of just clicking on a link, typing in the group's website address is even better. When doing a search to find their site, check the URL to make sure it isn't fraudulent. And instead of giving to an organization that says it will pass funds onto another, give to the larger group directly.

Go big

Dietlin feels strongly that giving to bigger organizations during crises is helpful on the receiving end. These groups are more likely to have their overhead and other costs covered by donated money, so your money is more likely to go directly towards aiding those in need.

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