First, consider U.S.-based Section 501(c)(3) charities that provide relief services overseas and that have a significant track record of conducting such activities. These charities are organized under U.S. laws and are accountable to federal and state authorities.
Do your due diligence. Investigate the charity. Is the organization transparent? Does it give the names and bios of its board of directors or trustees and staff? Does it conduct annual audits and are those readily available? Are its annual filings to the IRS easily accessible? Are its board members and staff reachable and accessible to answer your questions? Important information about a nonprofit's programs and activities are generally made available on www.guidestar.org.
When making a contribution, clarify your intent and indicate whether the donation is to be used for a specific program or activity or whether it is for general purposes. You can specify your intention by writing a notation on the memo line of your check.
Understand the wide variety of permitted types of charitable activities that may be funded by your zakat. While zakat is often focused on the poor, zakat may be paid to fund organizations and activities that engage in education, economic development, health care, civic engagement, and community relations, just to name a few.
Be wary of giving directly to individuals or foreign-based organizations. Direct giving is the practice most affected by counter-terrorism financing laws. The standards for due diligence, oversight, and reporting are, as a general matter, too difficult and expensive for the individual donor.
For more guidance, consult resources provided by Muslim Advocates and the BBB Wise Giving Alliance. Do not let the chill of past years prevent you from giving. The need is great. This Ramadan, give without fear (but give wisely).
Mazen Asbahi is an attorney whose practice focuses on nonprofit organizations and their donors, physicians, and other healthcare providers and small businesses. He can be reached at email@example.com.
This article was first published at Charity & Security Network and is reprinted with permission.