Hurricane Dorian might have spared much of the southeastern United States, but its impact is still being felt. The storm roared ashore last week with 185 mph winds and heavy rains causing substantial damage to homes in Grand Bahama and Abaco before heading back out to sea, and returning to lash North Carolina’s Outer Banks. This week, families and businesses are trying to recover. If you want to know what you can do to help out, here are a few tips:
- Cash is king. While you may want to send food and other items, the infrastructure may not support those donations. Many organizations have been clear that cash, or cash equivalent, is preferred. Keep receipts if you intend to claim those donations on your tax return.
- Be smart. Be wary of personal solicitations on your doorstep or over the phone. Make sure that gifts made by checks or credit card gifts are secure. And don’t send money by text or using apps like Venmo without first verifying the organization and contact information. If you don’t want to donate online or by text, most organizations have alternatives, like donation forms that you can mail together with a check. Never send cash through the mail.
- Check credentials. Check out the credentials of a potential donee/charitable organization before you donate. If you’re looking for a tax break, you can always confirm charitable status through the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) web site using the TEOS Search Tool. Remember that some organizations, like churches, may not be listed on the IRS website, so don’t be afraid to ask organizations which don’t appear on the list for more information.
- Use caution when donating to individuals. For federal income tax purposes, you can only deduct contributions to qualified tax-exempt charitable organizations. Donations to individuals are never deductible for tax purposes even if the individuals are really deserving; if the deduction is important to you, consider working with an organization which provides disaster relief. But there’s another, non-tax reason to use caution: money solicited for individuals could be part of a scam (like this one) and even if it’s not, the money might not be spent as advertised. Keep in mind that once you hand over the cash, you have no control over its use.
- Read the fine print before sending money abroad. Details are always important but especially if you’re not familiar with an organization. Even if you’re convinced that it’s a great cause, keep in mind that gifts to foreign organizations are not deductible for federal income tax purposes. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t give to a foreign charity: just be aware that you may not receive a deduction for gifts to organizations outside of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and those in any possession of the United States, including Puerto Rico (there are certain Canadian, Israeli, and Mexican exceptions). However, contributions to a qualified organization for use in a program conducted by a foreign charity may be deductible as long as they aren’t earmarked to go to the foreign charity. And you can always give to U.S. charities that provide international aid and still claim a deduction.
- Rely on oldies but goodies. There’s nothing wrong with new charitable organizations but there is something to be said for those that have been around for a while. Brand new organizations may not have the facilities in place to offer the most effective relief – or they could be scams. Use caution before handing over your cash.
- Pay attention to the rules and keep good records. The rules for charitable giving apply even in extraordinary situations although sometimes those rules may be tweaked to allow for more generosity. Stay informed. Be sure to document your gifts and get receipts: the IRS requires that you do so for tax purposes and having the information available is handy if you want to follow up with another donation. Never hesitate to ask the charitable organization or your tax professional if you have questions.
(For more tips on making your charitable donations count for tax purposes, click here.)
If you want to help but aren’t sure where to start, tax-exempt charities that have indicated they are accepting Dorian-specific donations include:
- American Red Cross. To make a financial donation, visit redcross.org, call 1-800-435-7669 or by mail a donation form. The Bahamas Red Cross also has an Amazon online registry with needed supplies (amazon.com) that will be shipped directly to the Bahamas.
- Catholic Charities of USA. To make a financial donation, visit CCUSA’s disaster-specific website.
- Global Giving. To make a financial donation, visit their website.
- Salvation Army. To make a financial donation, visit www.helpsalvationarmy.org or call 1.800.SAL ARMY.
- Save the Children. To support Save the Children’s response efforts, visit their website.
- Team Rubicon. To assist a team of military veterans and first responders with their Bahamas response effort, you can make a donation on their website.
- Water Mission. To help provide emergency safe water solutions to people in dire need in the Bahamas, you can make a donation on Water Mission’s website.
- World Central Kitchen. To help Chef José Andrés feed survivors of Hurricane Dorian, visit WCK’s website: donate.wck.org
(Please note that these are not endorsements of a specific charity. If you’re not a fan of those organizations listed, there are many other charities which would welcome your support.)
As you consider which organizations might make the best use of your gifts, don’t forget to consider the impact that your charitable donations might make on your taxes. Many Americans donate even if they can’t claim a tax deduction (the number of taxpayers claiming the deduction dipped last year). But some of the tax rules that apply to charitable donations - like checking to see that the organization has its paperwork in order – are good rules to follow even if you’re not claiming a tax deduction.
Not ready to make a donation? You can still help: Take that vacation that you were planning. When the National Press Club reached out to our colleagues in the Bahamas to find out how to help, Eugene Duffy, managing editor of the Tribune in Nassau suggested that folks not alter their travel plans. He noted that “it was not ‘The Bahamas’ which was devastated – just two islands at the north our 550-mile long archipelago.” And while those folks certainly do require assistance, those whose homes and businesses were not flattened by Dorian are still impacted by the lack of activity.
“We rely massively on tourism here,” explains Duffy, “with annual three million Americans visiting us on cruise ships or by air. On Friday, I was at the airport here in New Providence and there were NO tourists coming in from the States, which will be devastating for the economy here if it continues for any significant period.”
So if you’re thinking of staying away, don’t. The Bahamas could use your money to get back to normal. And, Duffy says, “the vast majority of the country is still open for business.”