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Dos & Don’ts for Donating Corporate Goods to Hurricane Victims

Spontaneous donations could create a safety hazard and prevent life-saving supplies from reaching victims.

One of the great things about American companies is that when disaster strikes, many of us want to help. Our response is often a powerful urge to rush what we think will be helpful supplies straight to the disaster zone.

Think twice! Very often, such supplies do more harm to good. In the chaotic aftermath of a storm or flood, good are often left to go to waste. For example, we recently learned that more than a year after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, 10 trailers full of rotting, rodent-infested donations were discovered in a parking lot. 

Worse yet, these spontaneous donations can clog up valuable staging space and transportation zones, hampering relief efforts of those on the ground. Back after Hurricane Mitch hit Honduras, cargo planes carrying life-saving supplies were unable to land because the runways were covered with boxes of useless winter clothing donations.

This is such a wide-spread problem, relief workers have dubbed it “the disaster after the disaster.”

However, companies can truly make a difference for victims of disasters. Here are two things you can do that will make the right kind of difference: 

  • Make a financial contribution to a reputable not-for-profit that specializes in disaster relief and has a proven track record of delivering aid. That way, your donated funds can be used to purchases what’s needed most—often food, water and medicine.
  • If you still have goods you’d like to give, don’t ship them to the disaster site: donate them to a national gifts-in-kind organization. These are 501c3 nonprofits that accept corporate product donations (aka “gifts-in kind”), then redistribute them to qualified nonprofits upon request. They have a process in place for delivering goods into the hands of those who are primed to receive them, after confirming they’re qualified nonprofits.  

For corporate donors, joining a gifts-in-kind organization is simple and free (generally, you simply complete an online form). Once your company is accepted, you can donate at any time.

How it works: you provide the organization with an inventory of your donation, and once it’s approved, ship it to a designated location. The organization takes it from there.

In addition to corporate-wide gratification, there are compelling business benefits here. Product donations are tax deductible. In fact, if your firm is a C Corp, it’s eligible for a tax deduction up to twice the cost of the merchandise you donate, thanks to a little-known section of tax code, IRC Section 170(e)(3).

Gifts-in-kind donating is also an easy way to keep inventory current and warehouses in order, since overstocks, out-of-season merchandise and even returns are accepted. In addition, your organization will advise you what specific charities requested and received your goods—providing some good news to share with employees and customers.

In short, it’s a great thing when America’s corporate citizens want to help victims of natural disasters, as well as those in need year-round. But to be truly helpful, it has to be done right.

Gary C. Smith is president and CEO of NAEIR, National Association for the Exchange of Industrial Resources, the largest gifts-in-kind organization in America. Galesburg, Illinois-based NAEIR (naeir.org) has received donations of excess inventory from more than 8,000 U.S. corporations and redistributed more than $3 billion in products to non-profits and schools. Gary may be reached at 800-562-0955.

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