It’s not too late to help Texas and Florida residents recover from hurricanes Harvey and Irma. But how do you make sure you’ve picked the right charity when donating money, food, clothing, or other items? 

One approach is to use a charity watchdog. These groups evaluate charities on many factors, including how much donated money is used for their charitable programs as opposed to fundraising and general expenses.

The BBB Wise Giving Alliance and two other watchdogs, Charity Navigator and CharityWatch, have released lists of more than a dozen highly rated groups in a position to help.

The charities that most deserve your donations at this time are those that actually are in a position to help on the ground, says Bennett Weiner, chief operating officer of BBB Wise Giving Alliance. For instance, the top-rated charity Direct Relief says it already has committed $200,000 to help storm victims and made $100 million in medical supplies available.

Among other national charities the watchdogs have listed are the American Red CrossAmericares, and the Humane Society of the United States.

Another organization, which has an A- rating by CharityWatch, is Team Rubicon, which brings together the skills and experiences of military veterans with first responders to deploy emergency response teams.

The watchdogs have also given high marks to some local groups in Texas that are responding to the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, including Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, which is working to provide shelter, food, and medication assistance for those who have lost everything. Another—the San Antonio Humane Society—is starting an emergency fund called Harvey’s Heroes to help it cover expenses to shelter pet evacuees and strays affected by Hurricane Harvey.

More on Weather Emergencies

Although the watchdogs haven’t listed local groups in Florida responding to Hurricane Irma, two that have been highly rated by the watchdogs are All Faiths Food Bank and Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida, which are collecting and donating food to those in need. Another group—Heart of Florida United Way—is providing shelter and basic needs for those affected by the storm.

Also, Florida Gov. Rick Scott has activated the Florida Disaster Fund, the state's official fund to assist communities in emergencies. Donations to the fund are tax deductible.

Check the charity watchdog websites to find charities you want to consider. The lists are likely to be updated in the days to come.

Picking a place to donate this way also can protect you. Scammers often try to take advantage of disasters, Weiner says. And there are many real charities that, despite their promising names and flashy websites, do very little to help anyone.

“If you want to give with confidence, then the best thing to do is to give to established charities that meet standards,” Weiner says.

Donate Intelligently

If you plan to make a donation, keep these tips in mind:

Watch for fraud. Beware of emails and postings on social media by groups and individuals you haven’t heard of before who say they are collecting money for victims. “There will be fraudulent charity solicitations, some involving websites and email links attempting to steal your credit card information for identity theft or to insert malware on your computer,” the CharityWatch website says.

Avoid middlemen. Some charities raise money to forward to other groups that may be helping. Your donations will go further if you give to a group that’s assisting directly, Weiner says.

Think twice about crowdfunding. If you’re considering donating to individual campaigns through a crowdfunding platform such as GoFundMe or YouCaring, keep in mind that it’s difficult to tell whether an appeal is legitimate and whether your donations will be used for the stated purpose. And crowdfunding appeals may divert donations from where they’re needed most, CharityWatch says. The most reliable way to give through crowdfunding is to assist someone you know personally, Weiner says.

Send money. Though victims will need food, clothing, and other supplies, right now moving such items will create logistical challenges that can cause big delays. “By buying relief products locally or regionally, charities can reduce shipping costs and more rapidly deliver assistance,” CharityWatch says. If you want to give supplies, verify what’s needed and that the group can deliver whatever you donate, it says.

Research other nonprofits. If you’re considering donating to a group not specifically recommended by a charity watchdog, check it out thoroughly before giving. 

Ask the charity for details on what it’s doing to help in this particular crisis, Weiner says. You can verify whether your donation to a specific group is tax-deductible by going to the Internal Revenue Service’s exempt organizations select check.

Consider future gifts. Although immediate donations are needed to assist in the emergency, the effects of the recent hurricanes are likely to be felt for months and years to come, Weiner says. “The focus now is going to be on saving lives and getting to people who have lost their homes,” he says. “People should remember Houston and other parts of Texas later in the year.” That goes for Florida, too.

Get More Actively Involved

In addition to donating money, you can take an active role in giving assistance as well. Here are a few ways:

Consider volunteering. Many charities, including human service organizations and animal-welfare charities, are looking for volunteers. For the American Red Cross, you can sign up on the organization’s website

Open your home. You can offer to provide free accommodations to hurricane evacuees through Airbnb. The service is waiving all fees until Sept. 25. 

Donate blood. Blood banks have been urging people to donate because demand for blood can rise, especially as patients are evacuated from hospitals. You can find a local blood drive on the Red Cross website, by calling 800-733-2767, or by using the Red Cross blood donor app. 

Adopt a pet. If you’re thinking about adopting a dog or a cat, for example, this could be a good time. Animal welfare organizations in Texas, Florida, and around the country are likely to take in pets that have lost their owners. For instance, St. Hubert’s Center, based in New Jersey, has listed 12 Northeast animal shelters that are expected to take up to 100 shelter dogs from Texas. Check with your local animal shelters.