It’s the first day of my 12 Days of Charitable Giving for 2019. Readers have suggested deserving charities over the past few weeks, and I’ll be posting the results here. Today’s charity is The Elephant Sanctuary of Tennessee, sometimes just called The Sanctuary.

I know what you’re thinking: elephants in Tennessee? I was confused, too, until I read their story.

The Elephant Sanctuary was founded in 1995 on 110 acres in Hohenwald, Tennessee. Since then, The Sanctuary has provided refuge for 28 elephants who are retired from zoos and circuses.

There are currently 11 elephant residents on 2,700 acres with room for more. Many of the elephants suffer from health and other issues as a result of being in captivity, such as tuberculosis, osteomyelitis, obesity, arthritis, and aggression.

The Sanctuary maintains three separate habitats (Asian, African, and Q) with heated barns, solar water pumps, hay storage buildings, spring-fed lakes, pastures and woodlands, fencing, four onsite security houses, and miles of internal maintenance roads. Wherever possible, The Sanctuary uses energy-efficient materials to reduce overhead costs.

The habitats are closed to the public. But, there is an Elecam online, which is a system of solar-powered cameras used to locate and monitor the elephants. This provides distance learning opportunities to schools and groups around the globe and offers frequent glimpses of the elephants. You can check it out here.

The Sanctuary also provides educational opportunities through distance learning, the Elephant Discovery Learning Center, and online resources, including their monthly electronic newsletters, EleNews (sign up here). In addition to providing homes for elephants, part of The Sanctuary’s mission is to educate the public of the complex needs of elephants in captivity and the crisis facing elephants in the wild.

So how can you help? To make a one-time donation, click over to the organization’s website. You can also adopt an elephant or commit to help feed an elephant (gifts of any amount are accepted).

If you donate at least $50 or more, you may be entitled to some swag. If the swag is substantial, your charitable donation my be reduced by the value of those goodies. But so long as the goods or services received have “insubstantial value” such as charity-branded token items (see Revenue Procedure 90-12), then those items, including “low cost” items and certain newsletters are exempt from the reporting rules. When you give something to get something, we call it quid pro quo; for more, click here.

For federal income tax purposes, if you plan to claim a deduction for a cash contribution, you’ll want to keep a record of the donation regardless of the amount. Ideally, the organization will provide a written record with the name of the charity, date, and amount of the contribution.

The Sanctuary also works with donors who wish to make the organization part of their planned giving. The Sanctuary can be named a beneficiary in your will or trust, as well as non-probate assets like life insurance and retirement plans. Click here for more information.

The Sanctuary also has a gift shop. Proceeds benefit the organization, but purchases are not tax-deductible (remember quid pro quo?).

Do your homework. As always, you want to make sure that your donation is going to a qualified charitable organization. A search using the IRS’ new IRS’ new Tax Exempt Organization Search (formerly Select Check) reveals that The Elephant Sanctuary is on the list. Copies of the organization’s forms 990 are also available on the IRS website.

To find out more about the work of the organization, check out their website, like them on Facebook, or follow them on Twitter or Instagram.

I often suggest checking out third-party sites like Charity Navigator for more information about charitable organizations, including evaluations and access to tax forms and other financials. The Elephant Sanctuary has a four-star ranking on Charity Navigator and Gold Seal of Transparency on GuideStar

Remember: Readers nominate their favorite charities to the 12 Days of Charitable Giving, and in most cases, I can’t personally vouch for the organizations. So be generous but be smart: Do your homework.

For more on making charitable donations, click here.

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Kelly Erb is a tax attorney, tax writer and podcaster.

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