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Animal rescue organizations have been working tirelessly to keep up with what feels like an endless stream of natural disasters. As the nation has watched media coverage of disasters like the California wildfires, Hurricane Florence and Hurricane Michael in 2018, both national and local groups scrambled to rescue and relocate animals and provide them with basic veterinary care.

To give you an idea of how widespread the damage has been, “In 2018 so far, we’ve helped 454,774 animals in 12 disasters,” says Alesia Soltanpanah, US executive director at World Animal Protection based in New York City.

These animal organizations rely on donor support, and without it, they couldn’t be nearly as effective.

Most people want to donate when a natural disaster strikes but haven’t saved for it. Setting up an animal shelter donation budget in January helps ensure that you’ll have funds available for the animals and animal organizations that need them most. The following tips can help make this process surprisingly easy.

Easy Ways to Create an Animal Shelter Donation Budget

Experts recommend setting up a separate account for pet donations. “I have separate accounts for household and car expenses, and I even have one for charitable contributions,” says Rob Halpin, director of public relations at MSPCA-Angell in Boston. “At the end of the year I donate those dollars to the charities whose work speaks to my heart, and if there’s an emergency, such as what we’ve seen recently with the fires in California, I take the money out early and direct it to rescue groups on the ground.”

If you think you might forget to regularly contribute to your account, consider automating the process, “whether by creating a separate account that your bank pulls funds into each month or working directly with the organization you want to support,” says Stephanie Shain, chief operating officer at Humane Rescue Alliance in Washington, DC. “Most organizations have simple recurring gift options for donations. Setting this up means your funds can be counted on, and that helps an organization plan.”

For simplicity, Halpin likes to use apps provided by online banking services. “Almost all banks now offer such services. I use Capital One because the app is very simple to use and intuitive. Every month a nominal amount of money is drawn out of my checking account and automatically deposited,” he says.

Your employer can play an important role, too. If they partner with United Way, for example, you can opt to have a portion of your paycheck deducted each period and donated directly to the charity (or charities) of your choice.

Also, ask if your employer offers a corporate matching program. “Many companies will match charitable donations by their employees, effectively doubling your generosity,” says Soltanpanah.

Should You Donate to National Animal Organizations, Local Animal Shelters or Both?

You naturally want your hard-earned cash to do the most good for the largest number of animals. Does that mean you should focus on donations to animal shelters that are local, or to national animal organizations or both?

Halpin likes a localized approach. “To stick with the California wildfires example for a moment, the animal welfare groups on the scene there are those that absolutely need our support. Only they can properly size and scope the disaster and forecast how many animals need help. Only they can negotiate in real time with state and local agencies, and volunteers, to arrange for animal transport, temporary housing and other needs,” he says.

Local animal shelters and national animal organizations often work as a united front, says Valerie Dorian, chief development officer for Kanab, Utah-based Best Friends Animal Society. “A gift to a national animal welfare organization can help locally, regionally or can help advance a national goal. Within that context, it is beneficial to give to both national and local animal welfare organizations, which often work together in responding to disasters.”

Best Friends works with more than 2,500 local partner organizations across the country, “which we support through grants, training and other resources. In times of disaster, we will partner with local organizations to provide the most immediate and efficient response to the situation,” Dorian says.

You can consolidate your donations for animals by setting up a donor-advised fund (DAF) with a trusted investment firm. “You make monthly or some other periodic contribution of cash, securities or other appreciated assets (which allows for a higher tax deduction). Doing so allows you to build a fund that you can then distribute at any time in the future when the need arises,” Dorian says.

Also check services like Charity Navigator’s Giving Basket where you can donate to multiple charities and set up recurring donations so you only deal with one tax receipt at the end of the year.

How to Determine If an Animal Organization Is Reputable

How can you be certain that the animal shelters and welfare organizations you’d like to help will use your donation in the most effective way? Or if you’re new to an area or to the animal rescue community, how can you determine the best animal shelters to donate to?

At sites like GuideStar and Charity Navigator, you can study a nonprofit’s 990 tax return information, which provides a wealth of information about their income, as well as where and how that money was earned and spent.

These sites also list a nonprofit’s 501(c)(3) status. “Donations to nonprofits with the 501(c)(3) designations are deductible on your taxes, while donation to organizations without that designation are not,” says Dorian.

The Better Business Bureau’s BBB Wise Giving Alliance accredits charities based on a comprehensive set of accountability standards in an array of categories, including effectiveness, donor privacy, truthfulness in informational materials and a detailed budget report.

Halpin says checking reviews online can be helpful, but adds that there’s no substitute for the personal touch. “This can be done through volunteering, attending events at which the charity’s leadership will be speaking, or asking friends and family members about their experiences with said charity.”

By Paula Fitzsimmons

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