Jeanette A. Tucker, Merrill, Thomas A. | 4/21/2005 11:15:40 PM
Americans are opening their hearts and wallets, generously giving millions of dollars to relief effort in the countries pummeled by the recent tsunami in southern Asia.
In this case, experts say monetary donations are the most effective means of getting aid to the people who need it, according to LSU AgCenter family economist Dr. Jeanette Tucker. And recently passed federal legislation will allow donations made this month (January) to still be claimed on your 2004 tax returns, she points out.
"Numerous relief organizations are on the scene, providing much needed assistance to the affected areas," Tucker says. "As they begin to repair the destruction and aid the victims, charities will need an infusion of donations to be able to effectively deal with the crisis."
The U.S. Agency for International Development, known as USAID, is the U.S. government agency responsible for economic and humanitarian assistance around the world. It has provided a list of organizations involved in the relief efforts, and that list can be accessed at www.usaid.gov.
"USAID emphasizes that monetary donations are the most effective form of assistance, because they allow humanitarian organizations to purchase the exact type and quantity of items needed by those affected by the crisis," Tucker says. "Since they often can purchase those goods in the region, it also reduces the cost of shipping goods in and lets more money go to what is needed."
Under legislation recently passed by Congress and signed by President Bush, donations made by Jan. 31, 2005, can be claimed as deductions on your 2004 tax return. To make certain your donation is tax deductible, it should be given to a U.S.-based charitable organization that is tax-exempt under section 501(c) (3) of the Internal Revenue Code, Tucker stresses.
"Unfortunately, a disaster such as this also provides opportunities for scamsters and also allows some to raise questions about the trustworthiness and organizational efficiency of charitable organizations helping the victims of this devastating catastrophe," Tucker says.
To avoid those sorts of problems, the LSU AgCenter expert says to consider these general tips to help you confidently deal with trustworthy charities helping the victims of this catastrophe:
–Give to an established charity. Choose a charity with a proven track record of success in providing aid in this region and for this type of disaster. Avoid fly-by-night organizations created specifically to deal with tsunami relief efforts. Even well-meaning new humanitarian organizations are unlikely to have the infrastructure and knowledge of this region to maximize your gift efficiently.
–Designate your gift. Are you concerned that your donation may be diverted to the charity’s general operating fund or saved for future needs? Many charities discourage donors from designating gifts, so that the charity can determine how to best use the money. If you lack confidence in the charity’s ability to make this determination, you may wish to tell the charity exactly how to use your gift. Designating your gift specifically for quake-tsunami international relief efforts will ensure that your donations will be used for the victims of this disaster.
–Avoid telemarketers. Guard against fundraisers who pressure you to make a contribution over the phone or an on-the-spot donation. Never give your credit card information to someone soliciting funds over the phone. Ask phone solicitors to send you written information about the organization they represent, and research the charity on your own. If, after investigating the charity, you wish to contribute, send a check directly in the mail or contribute through its Web site.
–Research and follow up. Search for information to determine charities that are well run and worthy of your support. Charity evaluators, such as Charity Navigator, work to advance a more efficient and responsive philanthropic marketplace by evaluating the financial health of America’s largest charities. To learn how much a charity really gives to the cause in comparison to how much goes to fundraising or administrative expenses, and for a peer comparison of similar organizations, visit www.charitynavigator.org.
–Designate the charity as payee. When contributing, make your check or money order out to the charitable organization, not to the person collecting the donation.
"The FBI and the Internet Crime Complaint Center already have begun to issue alerts about relief aid fraud," Tucker says, explaining, "Criminals are using e-mail and Web sites to divert tsunami aid contributions into their own pockets."
If you are considering online options for making relief donations, Tucker says to consider these recommendations from the Internet Crime Complaint Center:
–Do not respond to any unsolicited (SPAM) incoming e-mails.
–Beware of individuals claiming to be tsunami survivors or foreign government officials asking for help in placing large sums of money in overseas bank accounts.
–To ensure that contributions to U.S.-based nonprofit organizations are used for intended purposes, go directly to recognized charities and aid organizations’ Web sites, as opposed to following a link to another site.
–Verify the legitimacy of nonprofit organizations. Confirm the existence of the organization and its nonprofit status.
–Be cautious of e-mails that claim to show pictures of the disaster areas in attached files, since the files may contain viruses. Open attachments from known senders only.