Illustration: Chelsea Miller
Taxes 5 min read

Checking Out Charities

Many people associate giving with charity, and donating money to help those who are in need. You can also make donations to organizations that support causes that you believe in. There are other kinds of giving as well. For example, you can donate things that you've outgrown or replaced. You can also volunteer your time and special skills and talents.

The point of philanthropy, or charitable giving, is not necessarily how much you give. Even small donations can add up to make a big difference. Philanthropy is really about recognizing that others can use your help and then donating what you can to make things better. The good feeling that comes from helping is why many people believe that giving is better, and more rewarding, than receiving.

Why People Give

There are many reasons why people give. It may simply be a desire to help others or share their good fortune with them. Or it may be a desire “to give back” to a community, school, or organization that contributed to their success.

Other people believe strongly in a cause, like protecting wildlife, preserving the environment or restoring a community, and they donate time and money to see the cause succeed. Or they may have a very personal reason for giving to an organization that shares their concern, such as stopping unsafe driving or using renewable energy.

How People Give

Celebrities hold benefit concerts and events to raise money for the victims of disasters, such as earthquakes, typhoons, and floods. People attend special dinners and galas to raise money for foundations that research cures for diseases like cancer and diabetes. And some people give a fixed amount of their income, sometimes as much as 10% or more, to the religion of their choice.

Some wealthy people give money to build things that benefit specific communities or society as a whole. For example, they may donate money to build a new hospital wing, community center, or library. Or they may provide scholarships for students going to college.

While you may not have the money to give as much as these major benefactors—the people who support major causes and institutions—you can give in more ways that you think.

Budgeting for Charity

Just as you budget for things you need and want, you can set aside a portion of your income to donate to charity. You can decide how much that should be, depending on your other expenses and how strongly you feel about giving. If you earmark some of your income for charity when creating your budget, you're more likely to have the money available to make your donation.

You might have several different charities that you would like to give to. Here's where budgeting can also help. Think of charity as a short-term but ongoing goal. By planning how much you would like to donate to each charity, you’ll know how much you'll need to save as part of your weekly or monthly budget.

Checking Up on Charities

There are many worthwhile charities to which you might give time or money. But there are also people who claim to represent charities but really don't. They collect money only to enrich themselves, not to benefit others.

If someone asks you to donate money—in person, by phone, or online—take a closer look before you give. You might go to the organization's website or see what you can find out by typing the charity's name into a search engine. You can also check www.greatnonprofits.org to see a list of recognized charities that you can trust to use your donation for the right purpose.

If someone asks you to donate money—in person, by phone, or online—take a closer look before you give.

Give Away or Throw Away

Money isn't the only thing you can donate. Some charities specialize in collecting items that you're planning to throw out but are still in useable condition.

For example, there are charities that collect coats and other clothing for those in need. You might donate a jacket that you've outgrown, or shoes that you hardly wore. Other organizations collect used electronic devices, such as phones and computers, which they repair and distribute to people who can't afford them or donate to training programs.

There are neighborhood thrift shops that accept many different items, including books, CDs, and toys. These shops typically give a percentage of the money they earn to charitable organizations, such as food banks, shelters, or other community groups.

Volunteering

Besides giving money, you can contribute to charity by volunteering, or giving your time. Many charities have small staffs and depend on volunteers to deliver their services and fulfill their mission.

You might volunteer to work in a food or clothing drive to help out the victims of a fire or flood. Or you might volunteer to make a cake for a local bake sale or wash cars to raise money for a school event. During weekends and holidays, you might also volunteer your time in a soup kitchen or at institutions that provide meals for those who would otherwise go hungry.

You can also volunteer to read to children or senior citizens in community centers or libraries, or to contribute your time to programs sponsored by other neighborhood organizations.

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