The world’s attention has been focused on Japan since March 11. We watched in horror at video broadcasts of the magnitude 9 earthquake and subsequent tsunami that caused death and destruction throughout the country. The bad news just seems to keep coming. Multiple aftershocks have been reported, with a magnitude 6.5 quake striking on March 28. The crisis at the Fukishima nuclear power plant is ongoing. Sadly, the current death toll is 10,000, with more than 16,000 people still missing. Japan has sustained an estimated $3 billion in damage.
Fortunately, countless charities have mobilized to help the victims of the disaster. What are the best ways to not only make a contribution to the relief efforts, but to make sure your donation counts? Here are a few guidelines:
- Be careful to give to a reputable organization. Sad and disgusting as it is, natural disasters seem to bring the scammers out of the woodwork, and the earthquake/tsunami is no exception. Before you make a contribution, do some research to ensure that you are giving to a legitimate charitable organization. It’s probably best to give to a well-established nonprofit, such as the American Red Cross or Doctors without Borders. If you’re not sure about a charity’s reputation, you can check with Charity Navigator before making a donation.
- Make sure your gift is tax deductible. It’s best to give to domestic organizations, since contributions to foreign nonprofits generally are not tax deductible. To verify whether an organization is eligible to receive tax deductible donations, use the IRS “Search for Charities” page. And don’t forget, if you donate $250 or more, you’ll need to get a contemporaneous acknowledgment of your contribution from the organization in order to substantiate your contribution.
- Consider what your donation will be used for. Do you want to ensure that your donation is used to meet a specific need, such as providing shelter, furnishing food and water, or helping with rebuilding efforts? Different nonprofits focus on different areas of disaster relief. You can use Charity Navigator to find an organization that shares your vision and is offering the type of assistance you prefer to support.
Stephen C. Hartnett, J.D., LL.M.
Associate Director of Education
American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys, Inc.
6050 Santo Rd Ste 240
San Diego, CA 92124