How to Help: Turkey + Syria Earthquake

Images of February’s devastating earthquakes in Turkey and Syria have flooded news feeds, and at Laird Norton Wealth Management, we’ve fielded many questions from clients about how to best help families affected by this tragedy. We have compiled the information below for those wanting to help, and we are always happy to have a more in-depth conversation with you regarding your own personal charitable giving.

The Crisis and Need

On February 6, 2023, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck southern Turkey, 50 miles from the Syrian border. Hundreds of aftershocks, including one with a magnitude of 7.5, have since been recorded. This natural disaster has claimed more than 46,000 lives (at time of writing), with the death toll expected to increase as cold temperatures and limited road accessibility complicate rescue efforts.

This earthquake alone is a natural disaster of historic proportions, but it has been made worse by a backdrop of civil conflict in Syria that has driven 14 million people from their homes. As of January 2023, Turkey was host to more refugees than any other country in the world, including 3.6 million Syrian refugees. Large refugee populations can strain existing infrastructure, from school enrollment to food supply and housing availability, creating social tensions with host communities. In the aftermath of this crisis, both immediate and long-term financial support will be essential to families’ recovery efforts.

Aid Organizations

There are many global humanitarian nonprofits responding in both Turkey and Syria. How do you know which to donate to? The list below is a start:

Gauging Effectiveness

If you are interested in a particular nonprofit, it’s a good idea to evaluate its effectiveness by looking at a variety of factors, including the percentage of each dollar donated that goes directly to programs, the longevity of the organization, and its financial sustainability. Both Charity Navigator  and Charity Watch provide that type of data and analysis. While not foolproof, this research can provide additional reassurance that your donation will go to good use.

How to Give

Immediate needs in the wake of any natural disaster include funding for search and rescue teams, medical response teams, and providing safe housing, food, and clean water to as many families as possible. Longer-term needs include stable housing, employment or ongoing income, and schooling for children. Because of the wide variety of needs, “cash is best,” according to USAID + CIDI. Donating cash or liquid assets is the best way to help in an emergency and provides necessary flexibility to recipient organizations.

A variety of tax-advantaged ways of giving may be available to you:

Cash: Cash donations to charities may qualify as charitable tax deductions, potentially lowering your tax liability. Note that cash deductions are limited to 60% of adjusted gross income (AGI), and should be discussed with your tax advisor.

Qualified Charitable Deduction: If you are 70 1/2 or older and taking mandatory requirement distributions (RMDs) from IRAs, you can send those annual distributions (up to $100,000) directly to a qualifying 501(c)3 nonprofit organization (excluding DAFs, private foundations and supporting organizations). The amount you donate counts towards your RMD, but because the funds go directly from your retirement account to the charity, it is not taxed as income.

Donor Advised Funds (DAFs): DAFs can be established at investment firms, brokerages, or community foundations, and can be an effective tool in charitable planning and tax planning. DAFs are funded with an initial donation, providing a tax deduction in the funding year, and then charitable gifts can be directed from the fund in subsequent years. DAFs are often funded in years when people have abnormally high income, due to a liquidity event in a business, an inheritance, or other factors. Read a past blog on DAFs here.

Stock and Other Assets: Most nonprofit organizations will accept gifts of appreciated securities and other assets such as real estate. Generally, the market value of the asset donated counts towards a tax deduction (up to 30% of your adjusted gross income), and because the recipient charity is tax-exempt, no capital gains or income taxes are owed on the asset transfer or sale. While most organizations will accept publicly traded mutual funds, stocks and bonds, they may require an acceptance letter for closely-held securities. See our paper on giving assets to family and charities.

Legacy Charitable Gifts, Charitable Trusts and Beneficiary Designations: For longer-term charitable planning, there are several ways to incorporate philanthropy into your estate plan. Charitable gifts can be directed by a will; charitable trusts can remove assets from an estate, while creating an income stream for a beneficiary, and also meeting charitable intent. Read our post about Charitable Lead Trusts here. Finally, by listing a qualifying 501(c)3 organization as a beneficiary on any investment or cash account, the assets can be distributed directly to the charity upon your passing.

Laird Norton Wealth Management has helped clients develop and implement a wide variety of philanthropic giving strategies for more than 50 years, and we would be happy to brainstorm with you and your family about the most effective ways to align your interests with philanthropic entities that can make a positive difference.