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Tips For The Charitable Hero: How Charitable Organizations Can Help Victims Of Emergency Hardships Or Disasters

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Tips for the Charitable Hero: How Charitable Organizations Can Help Victims of Emergency Hardships or Disasters


Tips for the Charitable Hero: How Charitable Organizations Can Help Victims of Emergency Hardships or Disasters

Charitable organizations can assist those facing emergency hardships and disaster victims in a variety of ways. Organizations may provide assistance in the form of services, funds, or goods to ensure that victims have the basic necessities. Some examples of basic necessities include housing, food, clothing and medical assistance.


When assisting victims there are two essential administrative tips to remember: 1) charitable class cannot be exclusive and 2) documentation is required.


Charitable Class

Exempt organizations must serve a charitable class. A charitable organization cannot limit its assistance to specific individuals, such as a set number of individuals who were injured in a specific traffic accident. Donors, also, cannot earmark contributions to a charitable organization to go to a particular individual or family.


Individuals affected by an emergency hardship or disaster do not automatically qualify to receive the charity’s funds. The emergency hardship or disaster relief organization must make an assessment that each recipient of assistance is in need. Under rules that are already established, charitable funds cannot be distributed to individuals merely because they are victims of a disaster. The organization’s decisions regarding how funds will be distributed must be based on evaluations of the victims’ needs at the time the assistance is made. It is the responsibility of the charitable organization to take into account the charitable purpose for which it was formed, the specific needs and resources of each of the victims, and the public benefit of its activities when using its discretion to distribute funds.



Charitable organizations must maintain adequate records to show that the grants paid out further the organization’s charitable purposes. It must also show that the victims served are distressed or needy. The charities must maintain records to show that they have made distributions to individuals after making the appropriate needs assessments based on emotions, mental and physical well-being and financial resources.


In general, documentation requirements include:


  • • Purpose for which the aid was given
  • • The charity’s objective criteria for disbursing assistance under each program
  • • How each recipient was selected, along with the name, address and amount distributed to each recipient
  • • Detail of any relationships between any recipient and directors, officers, key employees, or substantial contributors to the organization
  • • Detail of the composition of the selection committee approving the assistance


For short-term emergency aid, in the immediate aftermath of a disaster, such as hot meals, blankets, fans, and coats, the documentation required is not as detailed as that which is required for long-term aid. It is only required that records be maintained showing the criteria for disbursing assistance, type of assistance provided, date, place, the estimated amount of people assisted, cost, and the charitable purpose intended to be accomplished. Organizations providing longer-term assistance would be required to maintain the detailed documentation, as listed in the bullet points above.


For additional information on disaster relief resources for charities and contributors or on providing assistance through charitable organizations, visit IRS Disaster Relief Resources for Charities and Contributors or IRS Publication 3833 Providing Assistance Through Charitable Organizations, or contact us.

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