Maximizing your disaster relief donation

BY MARC MOGAN

When natural disasters occur, people want to know how to help and where to donate. Relief organizations need financial donations and volunteers as they ramp up operations in response to a crisis. Organizations can be bogged down by an influx of unnecessary items by well-meaning donors. What can you do to ensure that your generosity helps rather than hinders relief efforts? Here are some tips to guide your support for disaster relief.

Make a monetary donation. In almost all cases, cash is the most effective and efficient aid you can provide to disaster relief organizations. Whether it’s an online donation, gift by text, or rounding up a purchase at checkout, contributing money may seem impersonal but it empowers the agencies that are doing the work. Cash gifts are quick and flexible, allowing organizations to purchase what is needed, often in bulk, at reduced rates near disaster sites. When supplies are purchased on location, it helps ensure the food is fresh and items are familiar to locals. Buying nearby also supports local businesses as they work to recover from the unexpected event.

Give what is needed. While your instinct may be to start gathering clothing or collecting food to donate, these items often pose challenges to disaster relief agencies. It may feel more personal to give something tangible. However, unnecessary donations can take up valuable volunteer time and storage space. Items can also be costly to collect, transport and distribute.

If you live near the disaster and want to give something tangible, ask the charity for a list of needed items. If you have bulk quantities of desirable staples such as non-perishable food, bottled water, blankets or diapers, contact the charity before delivering to make sure they are prepared to receive your donation.

Seek out trustworthy organizations. Unfortunately, scam artists often see opportunity in the misfortune of others. It’s not unusual for new charities to pop up after a disaster, seeking to capitalize on the public’s goodwill. Don’t let the dishonesty of a few discourage your inclination to give, but make sure the charity you donate to is reputable. Look for organizations that have a proven track record and clear mission statement. Review their ratings and financial statements on websites such as CharityNavigator.org or GuideStar.org.

Mind your budget. While it’s important to be responsive to those in need, it’s also wise to do so in a way that doesn’t compromise your financial position. Review your income and savings to determine an amount you feel comfortable giving. If the cause is important to you, consider creating a savings plan to fund future charitable activity each month. Donations are generally highest immediately after a natural disaster. However, it will take months — potentially even years — for some communities and individuals to recover. Organizations will be grateful for your thoughtful gift down the road.

Save on your taxes to give more next time. Donations to a qualified charity may qualify for a tax deduction if you itemize deductions. Keep in mind that there are limits to financial contributions and rules for non-cash donations like property.

Talk to your financial adviser and tax professional before making a donation, to map out potential tax implications and requirements.

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