The beauty of GoFundMe-style online fundraising is it’s quick and easy to start and to donate.

The downside is that it’s quick and easy—too easy. It’s another reason why the community needs the United Way to help ensure people’s generosity is put to good use.

The recent felony charge against Janesville resident Deanna Hatch, who solicited donations from the community to pay for the care of her husband, a disabled veteran, provides a fresh reminder of what can happen when people give without doing due diligence.

But the United Way, which will distribute this year $2.34 million to benefit 62 local health and human services programs, can be trusted. It vets each funding request on its merits.

“Funding decisions are made through a highly competitive process, and grants are awarded to high-performing nonprofits that provide programs and services aligned with our three strategic priority areas of health, education and financial stability,” Mary Fanning-Penny, president and CEO of United Way Blackhawk Region, explained in an Oct. 23 op-ed about the grant allocation process.

United Way recruits volunteers and subject-matter experts to examine all grant requests, and volunteers must sign a code of ethics policy and disclose any conflicts of interest, she noted.

Only after a rigorous vetting process, including a financial analysis and review of program effectiveness, does the United Way award funds. No program automatically receives money based on any previous allocation. Each funding cycle, a program must demonstrate that it’s worthy of United Way’s financial support.

United Way’s intensive selection process gives donors, who have neither the time nor expertise to evaluate the area’s many programs, peace of mind. United Way does the due diligence so the donor doesn’t have to.

Donating to the United Way might not feel as exciting as giving money directly to someone who says they need it, like Deanna Hatch did. But when donating via GoFundMe or similar websites, it’s difficult to know for sure how your money is being used.

Hatch made a convincing case. She claimed to have plans to remodel her house to make life better for her bed-ridden husband. But as a Delavan couple who lent her $10,000 discovered, she didn’t spend that money like she said she would, according to court documents.

Now she’s also being investigated for abusing and neglecting her husband, leaving anyone who gave her money feeling pangs of regret. Not only did those funds not help her husband, they went to a person suspected of abusing and neglecting him.

What if those who gave money to Deanna had given their funds to the United Way or a reputable veterans-related organization? Maybe that money would have gone to someone who needed it instead of being consumed by a deception.

Yes, we must continue to give generously. But now more than ever, the United Way is needed to vet programs and help the community steer clear of fake causes.

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