GOODS TO GIVE
While clothing and household items are the most commonly donated items, there are many other options as well.
• Vehicles. Many charitable organizations will accept donations of cars in almost any condition -- running or not. Typically, these organizations will pick up the cars, sell them and use the proceeds to fund their programs. Not only can donating an old car be easier than selling it yourself, but you can claim the car’s value as a tax deduction.
• Computers and other tech gear. Many charitable and nonprofit organizations, particularly schools and religious organizations, will accept donations of computers, fax machines, printers, and other tech gear if they are still useable.
• Food. Donations of canned or packaged goods can be made to local food banks and shelters. On the Feeding America Web site (www.feedingamerica.org) prospective donors can find a food bank in your community, volunteer opportunities and ways to donate money to combat hunger.
• Pet supplies. The Humane Society (www.hsus.org) can put prospective donors in touch with animal shelters in your area that would welcome donations of unopened pet food and items such as cages, food/water bowls and leashes.
• Eyeglasses. Your old eyeglasses can be recycled for use by people in need. Groups such as Lions Clubs can recycle an old pair of eyeglasses for as little as eight cents each. Ask if there is a Lions Club collection box in your community. Old eyeglasses can also be dropped off at any Goodwill Industries collection site and LensCrafters store.
• Musical instruments. Give the gift of music to a child by donating your old musical instruments to a local school. Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation (www.mhopus.org) will refurbish instruments and donate them to underfunded school music programs.
Statistically speaking, Americans are extremely generous. Consider the fact that in 2008, charitable giving in the United States exceeded $300 billion for the second year in a row -- despite the fact that many people in every part of the country are feeling the strains of recession and job loss.
One of the reasons that charitable giving has remained strong is the variety of options that exist for giving and the fact that many donations can be taken as tax deductions. Here are some of the most common -- and most convenient -- ways to give.
• Write a check.
Traditionally, this has been the most common way to donate. Many organizations hold annual fundraising campaigns through the mail or the media, and writing a check once or more each year is still convenient for many people. It’s important to make sure, however, that the organization you’re supporting is legitimate. Never send money to an organization that you’re not familiar with or whose solicitation materials are suspect.
• The gift of goods.
Many people donate their used or unwanted items to charities, thrift shops, schools or shelters (see box). These donations are typically tax-deductible, so be sure to ask for a receipt.
• Shop for a cause.
Today, an increasing number of purchases can support charitable causes, from name-brand products linked to charitable organizations, such as the Product(Red) items from Apple, the Gap, Starbucks, and other major retailers that trigger donations to fight AIDS in Africa; to brand-specific programs, such as the commitment by TOMS Shoes to give away a pair of shoes to a child in need for every pair it sells.
• Make a microloan.
A number of organizations have been established in recent years that specialize in microlending -- the making of small loans to individuals or small groups in impoverished areas to encourage entrepreneurship. Kiva (www.kiva.org) is among the best known and most successful microlending organizations worldwide.
• One-stop giving.
Network for Good is an exciting and convenient resource for making charitable donations online. The organization’s Web site (www.networkforgood.org) allows you to research and give to any of 1.5 million charities. The site also stores your donation history for tax purposes and keeps a list of your favorite charities.
• Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Many people designate gifts to charity in their wills. These bequests can be in the form of a specific amount of money, a portion of an estate, a particular asset, a trust or the naming of an organization as a beneficiary. Wills can also specify how the donation is to be used, such as for a specific program, scholarship or endowment fund or for use in a particular geographic region.