Support Charity Without Breaking the Bank
There are many ways to do good in the world. We could devote our lives to research, dedicate ourselves to teaching, or donate our time to improving our communities. We could create works of art, develop new technologies, or contribute to national movements. We could make someone’s day, become a role model to a child, or bring people together. There are so many ways to be a positive influence that it’s sometimes overwhelming to consider all the options. One way to make a difference is to support a local charity.
When looking to start supporting a charity, we start to wonder: What is the best way to help? How much time or money are we willing to give? How far will our donations go? How do we even get started? There are several ways to support a charity: donating time and skills, donating items, and donating money.
On a dime
If you would love to donate to charity if only you had the change to spare, you’re not alone. According to Charity Navigator, charitable giving decreases in years following economic recessions. Still, there’s power in numbers: in 2017, individual donors gave over $280 billion to charity. Charities will often tell you that every little bit helps. Still, if you’re reluctant to give money, there are many other ways you can do good in your neighborhood.
Volunteer for local organizations.
Your local soup kitchen or food pantry isn’t the only organization that needs volunteers to run smoothly. Animal rescue centers will gladly take volunteers to perform administrative work and take care of the animals. National parks and museums might be looking for guides or docents. Some hospitals have structured volunteer programs for members of the community. Habitat for Humanity uses volunteers to construct homes, and your local library probably has a Friends group which organizes book sales and helps the librarians keep the shelves tidy. You could teach a class at a retirement home, YMCA, or library. Consider what unique skills you can offer to your charity choices. If you have children, bring them along and teach them the value of helping out.
Volunteer with your kids.
One way to find volunteer opportunities is to offer to help at your children’s functions. If your kids like sports, offer to coach their team. Their school might also have opportunities for parents to help in the library, classroom, or school events. Participating in your kids’ events is a great way to spend time with them while also contributing to your community.
Use your hobbies for charity.
Your community center might host knitting clubs that make blankets for nursing homes. If you sew, you could make teddy bears for charity. Some hospitals, nurseries, and local charities accept donations of handmade items, but you should check with them first to make sure you’re not violating their hygiene rules.
Perform random acts of kindness.
It may seem small, but small kindnesses like holding the door open for others, letting someone merge in front of you, and exchanging pleasantries with a colleague can go a long way.
Make your house shine
It's spring (or fall) cleaning time! Don’t just ignore or throw out your old stuff — donate it to a charity. Some charities will resell your items and give the profits to their cause. Others will funnel the items directly to people in need.
Pledge to go green.
Going green will help your community without a major investment by you. Invest in a reusable water bottle and kitchen water filter, instead of buying cases of water from your local grocery store each week. Cut your electric bill in half by turning off power strips, replacing light bulbs with LED bulbs, and replacing old appliances with Energy Star ones. Borrow tools, books, and movies instead of buying new ones.
Donate your old stuff.
Scan your basement or your attic for the stuff you haven’t touched in years. You can donate used books to libraries, schools, and troops; toys to children’s hospitals, nurseries, and charities; and linens to animal shelters. Charities will accept almost anything: furniture, cell phones and computers, kitchen appliances, tools, eyeglasses, and more. Before donating used cell phones or computers, you should wipe the memory of any personal information.
Donate your car.
Many charities that accept used car donations will sell your car at auction and use the proceeds to fund cancer research, medical services, or charitable services for children, veterans, or people in need. Some charities will give approved cars directly to families in need. All of these organizations will tow your car for free and provide you a receipt for its selling price. Conduct research on where your donation will go before you donate. CauseNetwork is an organization that facilitates car donations to charities of all sizes. Before donating your car, you might need to determine the fair market value, remove the license plate, and transfer the title to the charity. Afterword, you’ll need to keep the receipt, cancel your insurance on that vehicle, and deregister the car.
Consider what else you have to give.
Maybe you cleared out your house last year, so you have no used items left to give. Consider what else you could give. If you’re healthy and qualified, you can donate blood to the Red Cross or a local hospital every 8 weeks. You can also try donating platelets, which are essential to surviving and fighting cancer, chronic diseases, and traumatic injuries. Consider registering as an organ donor, too.
Short on time?
We dream about the day when we’ll have enough time to devote to activities like volunteering. Still, we get stuck in our daily grind - work leeches into our home lives, our kids attend endless extracurriculars, and there just aren’t enough hours in the day.
Look into employer matching programs.
Your employer might match your qualifying donation or give you time during the year to volunteer at your charity of choice. You could also support your employer’s contributions by participating in office fundraising or volunteering opportunities. For example, NJM employees contribute to Camp Mercer, the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen, and the American Heart Association through walks, volunteering, and Jeans for Generosity.
Support small businesses with microloans.
Kiva is an organization that facilitates loans to small businesses around the world. Kiva uses crowdfunding to support approved entrepreneurs. Lessors repay the loans, meaning that you could get your money back or reinvest it to support another small business.
Use social media to your advantage.
If you’re participating in a walk or raising money for a charity, share your efforts on social media. Your friends could support your cause by donating or joining you. The Ice Bucket Challenge of 2014 raised over $100 million for the ALS Association, in large part propelled by social media. Some websites will even facilitate your charitable donations - for example, Facebook introduced a feature allowing users to start private fundraisers for charity. Consider asking your friends and family to donate to your cause instead of giving you birthday or holiday presents.
Raise money through your normal internet and phone use.
Use applications like Tab for a Cause and Goodsearch, which raise money by showing you advertisements, then donate that money to charities of your choice. Download an app like Charity Miles, which partners with sponsors to turn your workout into money.
Find a reliable charity
Before you relinquish your donations or your time, you might want to check that the organization you’re supporting is legitimate. Consumer Reports compiled a list of the best (and worst) charities for your donations. If you’re looking to expand your search beyond their list, consult a resource like Charity Navigator or Charity Watch.
Your donations will be more valuable if you give directly to organizations, rather than professional fundraisers. Professional fundraisers - like the groups that call you to solicit your donation - take a cut of your money to fund “administrative costs.” You can research how a charitable foundation distributes its donations by looking up their tax returns. You’ll benefit your cause more if you avoid the middleman and donate directly.
Apply It to Your Tax Return
So you’ve made your donation. There’s one last thing you’ll want to consider before you move on. If you’ve donated money or items to a charity, you could qualify for a tax deduction. Tax deductions for charitable contributions are limited to 50% of your adjusted gross income. In order to get the tax deduction for non–cash donations like cars, furniture, and electronics, you’ll need to provide some documents to the IRS, including:
A written acknowledgement of donation from the charity, if your donation is $250 or more;
Form 8283, Noncash Charitable Contributions - Section A, if your donation is greater than $500 but less than $5,000; or
Form 8283, Noncash Charitable Contributions - Section B, if your donation is greater than $5,000.
You’ll only qualify for a tax deduction if you donate to a qualified 501(c)3 or house of worship. You can check if the charity is a qualified 501(c)3 by conducting a tax exempt organization search on the IRS website. Consult a tax expert for more information.
It’s important to be diligent about the charities we choose to support, if we want our efforts to go far. Start by choosing the cause you want to support, then thoroughly research the charities that serve those causes. Once you donate, you can rest assured that you’ve done some good in the world.
This article has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, tax, legal or accounting advice. Please consult your own tax, legal and accounting advisors before engaging in any transaction.