How to choose which cause your donation goes to

Electricity poles and lines lay toppled on the road after Hurricane Maria hit the eastern region of the island, in Humacao, Puerto Rico, Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017. The strongest hurricane to hit Puerto Rico in more than 80 years destroyed hundreds of homes, knocked out power across the entire island and turned some streets into raging rivers in an onslaught that could plunge the U.S. territory deeper into financial crisis. (AP Photo/Carlos Giusti)

WASHINGTON — When disaster strikes and you want to help, there are a couple of ways you can ask organizations to use your money.

Both restricted and unrestricted donations have positive and negative aspects, according to Charity Navigator, the nation’s largest independent charity evaluator.

If you want your money to go to a specific cause or relief effort, then restricted donations through “donor designations” are the way to go, said Sara Nason, of Charity Navigator.

However, limiting how money can be used might hamper large but impactful organizations assisting relief efforts in many areas.

“With a restricted donation, the organization finds some limitation in the way they can use the money,” Nason said.

“If you trust the organization and you’ve established a relationship with them, we recommend creating an unrestricted donation to this organization so they can use the money in the way that they need it,” Nason said.

Organizations have to offer the restricted-use option to be included in Charity Navigator lists of featured charities for “hot topics” of specific disasters. They also have to specify how they plan to use the donation.

“We update that list several times a day for all of our active hot topics,” Nason said.

Current “hot topics” with lists of qualifying charities:

If you choose to donate, Nason recommends checking back with the charity after a few months to evaluate whether it’s making an impact, so you can decide whether to support it in the long term.

“Ask the charity how they view their future [and] how they’re measuring success,” Nason said. Those metrics will be included in Charity Navigator organizational profiles after Nov. 28.

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