After disasters, Americans let our tribal boundaries down. In Houston, one of the nation’s most ethnically diverse cities, people forgot about cultural or political divides to help each other survive. Even our cantankerous House of Representatives overwhelming passed bi-partisan legislation for Hurricane Harvey relief. Sometimes it seems it takes a calamity for people to do the right thing; it makes me wonder.

Cash donations sound mercenary but are most effective. If you are over age 70-and-a-half, consider a ”Qualified Charitable IRA Distribution.” Have the IRA custodian deliver the contribution directly to the charity. This strategy avoids all income tax liability on the distribution, but the IRA owner cannot touch the money. “Qualified Charitable IRA Distributions” have a $100,000 annual limit.

The charitably inclined should consider setting up a Donor Advised Fund (DAF). Most custodians offer one in-house. If your custodian doesn’t provide one, set one up at Fidelity, ($5,000, minimum initial contribution). Highly appreciated securities work best because as charitable donations they avoid capital gains tax. Donating through a DAF allows the donee to make anonymous bequests thus avoiding future charitable request solicitations. Sometimes it makes better sense to donate on the down low, sometimes not.

While cash donations are most helpful, if you have a specific request or a dedicated delivery point, in-kind contributions can be valuable and appreciated. See how the Gaffrey Gallery in Blue Mountain Beach handled their post-Harvey supply run. They reached out to a particular organization and brought designated supplies. Some pundits label in-kind donations the second disaster. Poor planning means donated goods often tax volunteers while taking attention and resources away from survivors.

With my Facebook friends and clients, we raised over $3,700 for the Houston Food Bank, an extremely efficient charity. Thanks, everyone. Cash is king, but you have to donate wisely. My original plan was to look for charities in South Texas or Beaumont. However, on Charity Navigator ( neither location had any four-star charitable organizations. After Hurricane Sandy, some Florida scammers set up a website similar to a New York charity and hoodwinked well-intentioned donors. Research before sending money. Pick up the phone; the internet helps but don’t discount old-fashioned research either.

After a disaster, survivor and recovery needs evolve. Cleaning up after Harvey and Irma will take months. Rebuilding a flood-ravaged community is a long-term project. Local governments and volunteers are limited in time, funding and skill levels. While never perfect, a robust federal government effort will be essential; small government zealots are misguided.

Randy Newman’s classic southern album “Good Ole Boys” reminded us of President Calvin Coolidge’s anemic response to catastrophic flooding a century ago. When you don’t learn from history, you repeat past mistakes.

You can’t always get what you want, but Buz Livingston, CFP can help figure out what you need. For specific recommendations, visit or come by the office in Redfish Village, 2050 Scenic 30A, M-1 Suite 230.