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Check out Haitian relief charities

By Gerri Willis, personal finance editor

NEW YORK (CNN) -- First, you want to avoid newly-formed charities. Work with an established charity that has experience in Haiti. Let's face it, establishing a new charity is hard enough, but in a crisis, the odds of succeeding are slim to none.

Look for a proven track record of success in providing disaster relief. If you really feel compelled to donate to a new charity, make sure it is registered public charity with 501(c)(3) status.

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Charities encourage donors not to designate their gifts so that the charity can decide how best to utilize the money. However you can tell the charity exactly what to do with your contribution.

Most charities that accept online donations offer a check box feature so that you can tell the organization how to spend your contribution. If you are mailing in a donation, write a note in the memo section of the check specifying that you want your gift spent entirely on the current crisis.

You don't want to send a check to the Haitian government. Haiti was known to be a unstable country even before this disaster, and as we've reported, the government really isn't functioning well right now. Keep in mind also that contributions to foreign governments are not tax deductible.

It's all about the greenbacks. Don't send supplies.

We see images of people in need of food and water. But it's not practical or efficient to send materials. Even if mail could get to Haiti, no one is set up to receive these goods, much less organize and distribute them to the victims. Furthermore, charities are often able to partner with companies to acquire large amounts of in-kind donations such as bottled water and new clothing.

Instead of boxing up and sending your old clothing, have a garage sale and turn your used goods into cash and donate that to a worthy charity.

-- CNN's Jen Haley contributed to this article.

Talkback: Are you planning on donating? To top of page

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