Now that the holiday shopping season is in full swing, it’s easy to get caught up in the rampant consumerism of the holidays and forget about the real meaning behind it all. That’s just one of the reasons that today has been dubbed Giving Tuesday, to remind us to help others in need and to act for real change in our communities.
Obviously giving is important for altruistic reasons, but it also makes you feel good, gives you a potential tax deduction, and makes a difference in the world. With a number of different ways to give and over 1.5 million non-profit organizations to give to, there’s something for everyone. I recommend finding a charity that means something to you and reflects your interests.
Here’s a breakdown of some ways to be smart about your donations:
Donating money is often the simplest way to give and helps the charity to use the funds for whatever purpose is best suited to their work. But not every charity uses their donations effectively and efficiently. In order to do the most good for your dollar, check out watchdog sites like CharityWatch.org, CharityNavigator.org, and GuideStar.org. These sites provide detailed information on how a charity uses their donations. For example, Oxfam America (one of the charities my wife and I support) spends 79% of their budget on program expenses versus 21% on administration and overhead. You’ll want to see that a large majority of a charity’s budget goes to the good work they do rather than the administration and fundraising aspects.
And speaking of budgets, you’ll want to make sure there’s funds available in yours for giving. The best way to do this is set aside a portion monthly for donations, even if you donate once a year. Depending on how much you donate, many organizations will set up a monthly amount if you prefer to give that way.
Donating household items
Many organizations can use donations of items from your home, including old furniture, household goods, and clothing. Periodically, I get phone calls from such organizations, including the Lupus Foundation, saying they’ll have a truck in my areas on a certain date so that I can leave the donation outside my door for pickup. Often old items are sold in thrift shops or to wholesalers to make money for the organization. Other times, old clothing may be sold to textile recyclers. Either way, if you’re able to declutter your home and assist a charitable organization, it sounds like a win-win.
There is also the opportunity to give non-perishable food items, most often to food banks. Recently I’ve seen a number of articles and videos around the internet suggesting that you shouldn’t donate canned goods to food banks. The intent of these pieces is to make it clear that by donating money, the food bank can buy a lot more food than you can because they buy it at extremely low prices. And this is true, so if you can donate money, that’s the best way to leverage your dollars, as I do with my local food bank. But that doesn’t mean the food bank can’t use canned goods or other non-perishable items (so long as they are not expired!), so feel free to donate these if that’s what you can give. And if you are bringing in a food donation, be sure to bring along your old shopping bags (the ones without the holes). The food bank can use these to distribute food to their clients.
Some charities will accept specific items and may list these on their websites. For example, some organizations provide career clothing to those who can’t afford to buy new and will gladly accept your lightly worn business attire. After my father-in-law passed, we had an almost new baby monitor which we had used while he was bedridden. My wife found a local home for young pregnant women in need and donated the monitor there. Even if they can’t use the item directly, some charities will accept things like used cars that no longer run well. Check around to find good homes for items you no longer need.
Donating time and skills
One of the best and most rewarding ways you can give to charity is to give of yourself: volunteer your time. Volunteering helps you to be part of the change, lets you meet new friends, helps you learn new skills, and so much more. You might volunteer to help serve the mission of the charity, or your skills might be put to use in fundraising or administrative tasks. To find a volunteer opportunity that suits you, try VolunteerMatch.org.
Feel like you don’t have the extra time over the holidays? That’s alright. Many organizations see a spike in volunteers around the winter holidays, but come January and February, they’re nowhere to be found. Add volunteering to your new year’s resolutions and make a regular weekly or monthly commitment if you can.
Encourage friends and family to donate
Another way to better leverage your charitable donations is to encourage friends and family to donate as well. This is often done with charity walks or races such as the Arthritis Foundation’s Jingle Bell Run/Walk or the American Heart Association’s Heart Walk. It’s a fun, healthy way to raise money for your favorite charity and make a bigger impact by getting your friends and family involved. To make the most of it, sign up early and use social media and e-mail to get the word out. You can even form a team to increase the fun as well as the size of your donations.
Shop at retailers who give back
While not a direct donation (and not tax-deductible), you can also choose to shop at retailers who give back to the community. For example, by shopping at Amazon Smile you can choose which charity will receive a small portion of the purchase price as a donation. Check out this list of retailers who give back and consider them for your holiday shopping.
Tips on tax deductions
Finally, if you’re planning to use your donation as a tax deduction, there are a few rules to follow. Donations must be made to qualified, IRS-recognized organizations. If you are receiving something for your donation (for example, a t-shirt), you can only deduct the amount greater than the worth of what you receive. Keep a record of your donation and hang on to it with your other tax records. And if you’re volunteering, certain expenses such as travel may be tax deductible.
Not everyone can afford to donate funds to their favorite charities, but hopefully we’re all in a position to contribute something as every bit helps. Let’s use Giving Tuesday as the perfect opportunity to jump start our year-end giving and remember the value of helping others.
Do you make charitable giving a part of your budget? I’ve mentioned a few of my favorite charities here…what’s your favorite charity?