Whether you traveled to distant parts of the world and were inspired by the inventiveness of communities you visited, or read about an issue in an article, the desire to help can quickly move to the top of your priority list. Supporting the efforts of nonprofits is a great way to take action. But giving across the world can also be daunting. Fortunately, there are resources to help make sure you’re achieving what you want with your generosity.
If you’re considering a one-time donation or sustained support, there are a few questions you should consider before giving abroad:
1. Where would you like to donate?
Do some research to find out which charities might align with your giving goals. A quick glance at most websites will tell you the effect the charity has had in the past and how it is working toward its mission today.
This research can often be more challenging than a simple web search. Some foreign organizations have a great online presence with English translations and clear information, but this is not always the case. In those instances, donors can rely on a few resources:
There are a number of 501(c)(3) organizations that facilitate international grantmaking and provide extensive databases of groups eligible to receive funding through them (for example, the CAF America Database).
Some countries have national registries of charities, such as the Charity Commission for England and Wales, that can serve as good country-specific resources.
2. How do you make sure you’re not breaking any rules?
Giving to charity across borders is subject to specific regulation and oversight from U.S. and foreign governments, which makes cross-border giving more complex than simply writing a check and dropping it in the mail. There is a matrix of regulations that donors are required to follow. These regulations are designed to defend people and organizations who donate against money laundering, terrorism and organized crime.
While you might think most of these regulations exist on the receiving end of charitable contributions, these responsibilities affect the donor—whether an individual, a corporation or an organization. The bottom line is that if you are initiating the financial transaction, you are responsible for making sure funds are used appropriately. This seems intimidating, but working with an intermediary grantmaker or another U.S. public charity can take the guesswork out of following the rules. An experienced intermediary organization can conduct the necessary due diligence and protect the donors’ reputations, ensure regulatory compliance and eliminate possible risks.
3. Are there tax benefits to giving abroad?
Not all charitable donations are tax-deductible, and donations made directly to charitable organizations outside of the U.S. do not qualify. That said, there are several U.S. charities that can allow you to receive a tax deduction while supporting charitable work overseas. If you would prefer that your donation be directed to the foreign charity, you can opt to make your gift through a U.S. intermediary organization. Intermediary organizations are public charities that often assume the risks in making donations to organizations outside of the U.S. and allow the donor to receive a tax receipt at the time of their donation.
Donors should check how the specific intermediary organization they choose to work with operates, as there will be differences among them regarding the due diligence they perform, the fees they charge, etc.
4. What impact would you like to make with this donation?
It is important to think about your expectations at the outset. Clarity about what you’d like to accomplish with your donation helps set expectations between you and the charity.
Giving outside of the U.S. is complicated, but there are a number of organizations that specialize in cross-border giving, making it accessible for Americans to support charitable causes in nearly any country. With the assurances of a comprehensive due diligence and foresight, giving internationally can be a fulfilling experience. By considering the needs on the ground and the goals of your own good intentions, you can take full advantage of the immense capacity to do good provided by charities around the world.
Ted Hart, ACFRE, CAP, is the President and CEO of CAF America and the editor of Cross-Border Giving: A Legal and Practical Guide.