If the world has indeed become a global village, it isn’t hard to see why global philanthropy has become the fastest-growing form of charitable giving in the United States.

And since heart-rending scenes of natural disasters and human suffering aren’t likely to disappear, and will be seen by millions on television and the Internet, the interest in global philanthropy isn’t likely to abate.

“Advisors are more likely to see clients with an interest in global philanthropy than at any other time,” says Betsy Brill, president of Strategic Philanthropy, a Chicago-based firm that works with financial advisors. Younger clients, who tend to be more socially conscious and connected to the Web, are especially likely to be interested in global philanthropy, Brill adds.

But donating to organizations doing charitable work abroad can be tricky and advisors can provide a valuable service by helping clients navigate the unfamiliar terrain.

Here are some tips from experts:

  • Consider charities with a domestic presence – “You don’t want to make a grant directly to a global charity before checking out organizations with a domestic presence that have a U.S. charitable tax status,” cautions Eileen Heisman, president and CEO of National Philanthropic Trust. Well-known charities in the U.S. doing international philanthropy include Doctors Without Borders, Global Fund for Children, Global Fund for Women and the World Wildlife Foundation.
  • Research, research, research – “You have to be very skeptical – and do as much research as you can – to make sure that the money is going where it should go,” says Susan Colpitts, principal and co-founder of Signature, a $2.7 billion wealth manger in Norfolk, Va. Advisors and clients should use Google alerts and Web sites such as guidestar.org and charitynavigator.org to research charitable organizations, experts say.
  • Have boots on the ground – If clients are wealthy enough to fund their own charities overseas, make sure they have expert local legal advisors and are able to make frequent on-site visits.
  • Use outside philanthropy advisors – “Advisors can really benefit from working with an outside expert,” says Colpitts. Her firm works with Chicago-based Arabella, and Strategic Philanthropy, which just opened a San Francisco office, is another well-regarded source for advisors helping clients make philanthropy decisions.
  • Consider Kiva – Clients, especially younger ones, can make “micro-loans” on kiva.org for as little as $25 to entrepreneurs in developing countries.

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