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One of the best things about the holidays is that people often feel more generous than other times of the year. In fact, over 50 percent of charitable organizations in this 2012 survey said that they receive the majority of their contributions between October and December: a time known as the Giving Season. With gifts purchased, holiday bonus checks deposited, and the deadline for tax deductions looming, people may feel more inclined to open their wallets and donate to causes that they find meaningful.
Perhaps you find yourself in a similar giving spirit this year, but you aren’t sure where your resources should go. Whether you want to donate your money or your time, here are a few tips that may help you get started:
Donating Money• Before you get out your checkbook, think about what’s important to you. Are you concerned about animal welfare? The environment? A particular illness or health issue? Do you support the arts? Would you like your money to go to help a local cause or a global initiative? Do you wish to donate in memory or in honor of someone?
• It’s important to choose a reputable organization that will put your money to good use. This New York Times article offers some suggestions on how to choose a charity wisely, including resources that can help you research the best charities. One of those resources is GuideStar, the world’s largest source of information about nonprofit organizations, including IRS data. Check out the overhead costs and salaries for charities that you consider to see if they seem in line with the organization’s size and scope.
• Find out if your company has a matching gifts program.If it does, determine what the requirements are for eligibility. Choosing a charity that qualifies for such a program can sometimes double your initial donation.
• Ask if your gift will be tax deductible, and make sure to have the supporting documentation if you plan to file a deduction.
• Be wary of charities that solicit donations over the phone. Ask for information in writing, including a mailing address and permanent phone number. It’s best not to give out your credit card information over the phone if you’ve been called, and to avoid making a cash donation. A check is usually the safest and best way to donate and to document your contribution.
• If possible, try to volunteer at the charity before you donate. Seeing how an organization works can give you valuable information and insight.
• Ask your friends and family which organizations they support financially.
Donating Time• Again, start by thinking about what matters to you and what concerns you. Have you noticed more homeless people in your community? Do you wish someone would clean up that local park? Does your child’s school secretary look like she could use some help? Just look around – there are probably volunteering opportunities right under your nose.
• There are many online volunteering resources. VolunteerMatch brings people and causes together locally – just plug in your zip code and search. Or, the United Way and Red Cross offer local volunteer opportunities, too.
• Ask about volunteer opportunities through your place of employment. If your company doesn’t have any sponsored volunteer opportunities, ask if you can start a committee to get some going.
• Be honest about your talents, skills, and abilities. If you don’t feel comfortable with the volunteering efforts, you probably won’t stick with it. The organization will appreciate knowing on the front end where your strengths and interests lie.
• Consider the logistics of volunteering. How long will you have to drive to get there? Will you have to pay for parking? Will you get meal breaks? Will you have to walk a lot or be on your feet a long time? Do you have to wear anything special? Make sure you know what will be required and what expenses you may incur.
• Some volunteer opportunities require applications, screenings, and even interviews, so be prepared to offer information if requested.
• Don’t overcommit. It may be tempting to overextend yourself, especially if you enjoy volunteering, but start out slowly and add hours later if it makes sense for your schedule and for the organization.
• Make it a family affair. If the organization allows volunteers under 18, getting your children involved can be a great way to set an example of community involvement.
If you don’t have money or time to donate this holiday season, there are still ways that you can give. Donate unused clothing and items to a charity or to a homeless shelter. Check on an elderly neighbor. Pick up trash in the parking lot. Participate in a charity walk. Support local businesses that give back to the community. Publicize your favorite organizations and events on social media. There are many different ways to give, and 364 other days a year in which to do it.
Next > A Guide To Homemade Gift Giving