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How to Give to Charity This Holiday Season, Even on a Tight Budget

There are few things in life that make you feel better than giving to others, especially during the holidays. However, when money's tight, charity is often the first to go. We’ll show you how even your spare change can make a big difference this holiday season.

the season for giving

(Photo Credit: Boston Public Library/Flickr)

In an interview with PayScale, Jennifer Merritt, editor of BBC Capital and author of 13 Things Rich People Won’t Tell You, explains that charitable giving isn’t just about big dollar donations made by the rich and famous, it’s about the "small donations made by ordinary people that, collectively, make a huge impact." Of course, charities welcome big dollar gifts when they do trickle in, but it’s the seemingly little donations that really keep organizations afloat.

Technology has made it possible for everyday people to conveniently make micro-donations, or small donations, in their daily lives. For instance, Goodwill stores have a program called “Round Up” that allows customers to round their final purchase price to the nearest dollar and, literally, donate their spare “quarters, dimes, nickels, and pennies” to “support Goodwill’s vocational programs that help people find jobs and achieve economic self-sufficiency.” Merritt also reminds us that many retailers now give shoppers the opportunity to make small donations to sponsored charities, typically requesting a dollar or two to be tacked onto a customer’s total bill.

If you’re like most of the population that believes a $2 donation is worthless to a charity, then consider this: If 50 people pass on donating $2 each because they feel it’s an insignificant amount, then a charity just lost out on $100. Now, expand this scenario to a bigger population of 1,000 people, and you have an organization that misses out on $2,000 in donations because, on its own, $2 seems like a trivial amount. According to Our Daily Bread Soup Kitchen, it costs the organization, including overhead, roughly $1.30 - $1.70 per meal to feed one person at their soup kitchen. That $2 that you didn’t donate, because you thought it wouldn’t make a difference, could have fed one person a hot meal this holiday season. (It’s OK, you can cry now.)

There are also other ways to contribute to charities than with money; you can donate your time, resources, or “gently used” belongings as well. Volunteering your time is a great way to give back to others because, as Merritt indicates, “time and skill are hard to come by,” and charities welcome any and all help they can get. Additionally, volunteer work is a great opportunity for individuals to enhance their resume, contribute their knowledge and expertise, and fill employment gaps while simultaneously giving back to others. Trust us, a hiring manager would much rather see that you contributed your unemployment time to a good cause, rather than sitting on the couch playing video games.

Now that you’re ready to give, let’s discuss three important facts to consider before donating to your charity of choice.

1. Do your homework. For peace of mind, verify the charity of your choice by checking CharityNavigator.org to see how they rank amongst 6,000 charities the site has examined. In doing so, you’ll be able to see the charity’s financial statements, their track record, and the ratio of overhead versus contributions. Merritt says that donators should look for charities that have a $0.90 to $0.70 on the dollar ratio, depending on the charity’s size.

2. Give to a cause that you believe in or are passionate about. If you’re passionate about animals, then seek out charities that contribute to combat animal testing, or find local shelters in your area to donate to. Likewise, if you’re big on feeding the poor, then contribute your time and/or donations to local shelters and soup kitchens.

3. Track your donations. Most charitable contributions are tax deductible, so be sure to keep track of what and where you’re donating. To learn more about tax benefits of giving, read here.

There’s something so rewarding about helping others, especially this holiday season. You don’t have to be a millionaire, or even wealthy, to make a difference in your community and in the world with your contributions, big or small. We wish you happy holiday … and happy giving.

Tell Us What You Think

Do you have a favorite charity or cause? If so, share your story on Twitter or in the comments section below.

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