Right about now, charities all over the world are gearing up for their biggest season of the year—one-third of all giving happens during the month of December, spiking during the last three days of the year. Just glancing at these statistics, you could assume that hard-working folks donate to reduce their tax burdens, but the truth is, Americans are a generous lot, twenty times more charitable than other developed countries.
Overall, donations rose 10% over the past two years, continuing a six year record-breaking trend. A large portion (over 80%) came from private individuals, not corporations. You may want to join your generous brethren this season, but with the hoards of people with their hands out it can be difficult to choose an approach. Here are our tips on paying it forward this season:
Do your homework. A quick lap around the internet will make your head swim with allegations of shady dealings. Charity scandals abound and wily thieves seem to find endless ways to rip off unsuspecting do-gooders. Before you open your wallet, investigate for yourself. You might want to steer clear of these organizations who give very little of the money collected to the actual cause they claim to support. Also, the Better Business Bureau remains one of the most trusted resources for getting the scoop on charitable institutions.
Many unsavory groups survive by convincing people they are similar to popular, well-managed charities. For example, the Make-A-Wish Foundation is powered by an army of passionate volunteers focused on changing lives one at a time, with the majority of donations going directly to children. On the other hand, Kids Wish Network was created as a look-alike, relying on donor confusion and giving a measly 3% of what is donated to the kids they claim to serve.
Replace black Friday with #GivingTuesday. A few years ago, the 92nd Street Y and the United Nations Foundation launched Giving Tuesday (#givingtuesday) to respond to the ever-growing commercialization of the post-Thanksgiving shopping spectacle kicked off by Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Spurred on by social media and a collaboration of powerful influencers, this twist on the American tradition of frenzied holiday spending tapped into an undercurrent of consumer burnout. In the five years since its inception, it has managed to double year over year, boosting the power of small acts of kindness.
Give when you spend. With some planning and forethought, you can be a conscious consumer. Companies are increasingly using corporate responsibility as a business tactic. If you are an online shopper, use AmazonSmile to select your favorite charity. Amazon will donate 0.5% of qualified purchases to any eligible 501(c)(3) nonprofit that you choose. Paypal has also jumped on the bandwagon with its simple donate button, making it even simpler to be generous. You can use your shopping dollars to make a difference when buying everything from beauty products to children’s clothes and toys. If you’re an animal lover, there are also ways to show your support by buying from brands that work to improve the lives of our furry friends.
Collect tax write-offs. I know you are donating because of your generous nature, but being a savvy benefactor means making sure you benefit from your generosity as well. As you prepare your income taxes, remember contributions are only written off in the year they are made, even if you don’t receive or pay your credit card bill until the following year. And make sure your cash contributions are postmarked in the year they are deducted.
It’s not all about money. Feeling a bit squeezed by holiday cheer? You don’t have to give cash. Many nonprofits provide opportunities for charitable giving that don’t require a penny. One idea for those blessed with a good head of hair is to send your long locks (usually a minimum of ten inches is required) to one of several groups that make wigs for people suffering from any number of diseases. Many salons even offer free haircuts when you donate.
Be the change. If you can’t find it in your budget to give, why not devote your time and effort instead of a donation? Volunteering, gifting unwanted items, and committing your business or expertise to help others are great ways to generate change. Getting involved at the ground level makes us feel more engaged and tends to evoke loyalty and generate higher contributions over time.
Good ways to feed your altruism are on the rise and will require us to be ever-vigilant when sniffing out the bad seeds. Check out these helpful tips from open-hearted folks on the lookout for unethical charities. With just a small investment of time, you can join the growing number of philanthropists making a difference.