Nepal's 1.4 million earthquake survivors are suffering and you want to help. Let's say you can spare $50 to donate, but you don't know which charity will make the best use of your money.

How do you pick the right one? And how do you know your money will actually get to the people of Nepal?

Disaster Accountability Project head Ben Smilowitz says Nepal is likely to receive only a portion of the actual cash, because some organizations are better-equipped than others to make effective use of the funds they raise.

"It's important to make sure that the right organizations are receiving the most money in these situations," Smilowitz told CTV's Canada AM on Tuesday, advising people "ask questions" before donating to the first charity making an appeal, since some groups lack accountability and don't make the best use of your money.

"Try to donate generously and as directly as possible," Smilowitz said. "A knee-jerk donation to the wrong organization could… be put to waste."

He points out that it's better to send money to aid groups with a long track record, a good reputation and a strong presence in the affected country. It's also wise to send the money to organizations that are based in Nepal, instead of giving the cash to affiliated groups that are half a world away.

"The Nepal Red Cross would be more direct than sending it to the Canadian Red Cross or the American Red Cross," Smilowitz said. "The money shouldn't have a six-month or a one-year layover somewhere. It needs to have a direct flight to Nepal."

Smilowitz's Disaster Accountability Project was created in the wake of the Hurricane Katrina disaster, as an independent watchdog for charities accepting aid donations. The group surveys charitable organizations and attempts to monitor the flow of donation money to and from those organizations in times of crisis.

Smilowitz said many aid groups lacked transparency in the 2010 Haitian earthquake relief effort, and he fears that situation could repeat itself with Nepal.

One year after the 2010 earthquake that devastated Haiti, the Disaster Accountability Project followed up with 196 charitable organizations that accepted donations. Only 38 of the 196 charities contacted were willing to share their donation information, and only eight of those groups posted that information online for all to see.

Smilowitz's group found that charities only used half of the $1.2 billion donated for Haiti relief, even as the country suffered through a cholera epidemic in 2011.

"There's a difference between the amount committed and the amount actually released," he said.

Smilowitz adds that aid should be demand-based and co-ordinated by Nepalese charities that know best where the help is needed. He says, in some cases, outside aid groups have been known to withhold the donated funds, effectively forcing local aid workers to become dependent on outside help.

"It's a real worry that donations may never actually reach Nepal if people don't donate to the right organizations," he said.