By Laura Shin of LearnVest
For more on how to budget for giving throughout the year, visit LearnVest.com.
Study after study has demonstrated a truth summed up nicely in this quotation by General Peyton C. March:
“There is a wonderful mythical law of nature that the three things we crave most in life—happiness, freedom, and peace of mind—are always attained by giving them to someone else.”
It’s so true (and ironic) that giving to others gives us a boost as well.
The bigger irony is that many of us forget to include giving in our budget. We probably feel our lack of planning most keenly at the end of the year when we are bombarded with requests that we would like to fulfill … but can’t. Or, when we are haphazardly responding to charity pleas without having an overall strategy.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. At LearnVest, we believe that charity should be a planned part of your budget and your schedule. After all, it helps others, and it enriches our lives in ways that we could never anticipate. Besides, using some forethought means we won’t just be giving to the causes that have the money and energy to knock on our doors but the ones that are nearest and dearest to our hearts.
If you are wondering how you’ll make extra room in an already tight budget, don’t fear. We’ve got all kinds of solutions—from giving time, money or technology you no longer use, to a bank that donates to a charity of your choice based on how much money you save.
Here is your guide to giving to charity all year long. Just add one (or several) of the following tips to your 2012 resolutions to make sure that by the time 2013 rolls around, you and others will have benefited from your foresight.
If You’re Giving Money …
Assess your giving budget.
The first question everyone faces is: How much should I give? $10 a month or $100 a month? Most people don’t give more than 2% of total annual income, though those who tithe may give as much as 10%. No magic percentage fits everyone. The best number is the one that will allow you to give comfortably while still working toward your financial goals.
That means that when you come up with your number, you should go back to that essential building block: your budget. (If you haven’t created a budget yet with the LV Budgeting Tool yet, now’s the perfect time to set your yearlong budget right—and include a folder for “Charity.”)
Decide on regular donations or big, one-time gifts.
There are two ways to do your donating. The first is monthly donations. By having donations automatically withdrawn from your checking account or charged to your credit card, you’ll enjoy the thrill of seeing the good you’re doing each time you see your monthly bank statement. Plus, while we mostly think about charities at the end of the year, they appreciate getting regular “paychecks” as much as anyone. If you go with this method, you could, for instance, donate $25 every month to feed the needy in your city and another $25 monthly to support the education costs of a young girl in a foreign country.
If you like the idea of making a big one-time gift, you can stash away a little bit every month into a savings account where it could grow a bit of interest, and then write a fat check at the end of the year. This method also gives you a bit more flexibility in terms of who you give to. While you might begin the year with an intended recipient, should a natural disaster happen, you could always split your savings between that and the charity you originally had in mind.
Leverage your network.
If you have a wide network of generous friends and family, leverage it to make a donation exponentially larger than you could make personally. After all, you could donate $50—or, you could run a race, get 50 of your friends to donate $50 each, and give $2,500.
In fact, you don’t even have to do anything as physically taxing as crossing a finish line. For your birthday, request that any would-be gift givers donate to your charity of choice instead. Name a target goal so your friends can also celebrate when you all reach (or exceed) it. You can always set up a donation page through the Causes app on Facebook or on a website like CrowdRise or YourCause.
Make charity a part of your errands.
If you just want giving baked into your everyday life, use sites that allow you to accomplish a task important to you (i.e. savings, shopping, web searching, etc.) while doing good at the same time. For instance, Social Goodies is a daily deals site that puts a portion of your purchase toward a charity (or charities) of your choice. (Think Gilt or Groupon with a philanthropic bent.) GoodSearch is a search engine that will donate a penny to charity each time you do a web search, or buy merchandise, on their site—you can also download it to your toolbar. Even your savings goals can benefit others: ableBanking, a soon-to-be-launched online bank, will donate $25 to any charity you choose when you join, plus $2.50 a year for every $1,000 in your account and “bonuses” if you refer friends.
Double your donation.
Check with the human resources department at your company to find out if it does matching donations, to turn your $50 into $100. In general, try to donate whenever you know your gift will be matched. In fact, Donors Choose, a charity that pairs would-be donors with public school classrooms in need will match every dollar donated by a LearnVest reader. Just use the code LEARNVEST when making your donation to double your impact.
If You Would Rather Donate Time, Things and More …
While we normally think of giving money first, charities can also use your time, used items and more.
For certain organizations, free help can be as valuable as cash. This is especially true for organizations based on a volunteer model such as Big Brothers Big Sisters. Do a search for causes that interest you (i.e., “health,” children” or “hunger”) on one of the many volunteer matching sites, which include Volunteer Match,All for Good and Network for Good, to name a few. You can also do a web search for “volunteer” and the name of your city.
When signing up, make sure the time commitment works for your schedule. It takes the fun out of volunteering if you’re always stressing about whether you’ll make it in time, or at all. For instance, soup kitchens often use volunteers on weeknights, programs involving children usually happen during non-school hours, while volunteers who deliver meals to the sick or elderly can even put in their hours on their lunch break.
Give your old things new life.
In the spring and fall when you’re reorganizing your closet (or any time you’re cleaning your home), put your castoffs to good use. Of course, there are always Goodwill and the Salvation Army for clothing and furniture, but other charities collect specific items. Check out the information below for a few common items that charities can use.
Item: Suit Pants and Skirts, Blazers, Jackets, Blouses, Professional Shoes (no jewelry)
Where to Send It:Dress for Success
And when it comes to tax time, remember that you can also get a tax break on these donations if you itemize your deductions. Look at this guide to find out the tax deduction value of your used clothing and various other household goods. (If the total value of your donations exceeds $500, you’ll have to fill out IRS Form 8283.)
Give your health
While money, time and personal items are the most common ways to donate, one of the most overlooked and personal ways to give is to give your own health. While many of us donate blood regularly, you could also be tested as a bone marrow donor through Be the Match, or you could donate blood plasma.
If you have long hair, you can also cut it and donate your tresses to an organization such as Locks of Love that provides hairpieces to children suffering from hair loss due to a variety of medical conditions, or to Beautiful Lengths, which will donate it to women with cancer who have lost their hair.
If You Need Flexibility...
Do your volunteering from home.
You can even do good from the comfort of your own couch. If you’re savvy with computer skills, put them to use by doing word processing and other tasks on sites like Sparked.com or Volunteer Guide, both of which offer “micro-volunteering” opportunities that you can fit into your schedule in bursts as short as 15 minutes. UNV Online Volunteering Service is a United Nations-run site that connects volunteers with development organizations who need computer help that can be done via internet.
Then again, when we mention the comfort of your own couch, it could be enhanced by a puppy resting in your lap—specifically, a seeing eye puppy that you raise and train for its future work. Like all of the other opportunities listed here, that will give back to you—just in the form of puppy licks.
If You Love Adventure ...
Take a volunteer vacation.
You could always combine the fun of volunteering with the fun of travel. Many programs offer volunteer vacations (usually abroad) that give you the opportunity to have an immersive cross-cultural experience while doing something good.
The one caveat is that these opportunities may charge you a fee, plus you will probably have to pay the travel costs and possibly for food and lodging. They charge fees in order to cover operating costs and pay for materials and other resources. And the reason they don’t pay for your food and lodging is that if they had the money to do so, then they would probably just hire local help instead of asking for volunteers. That said, these experiences can be incredibly enriching, so if you’re so inclined, just make sure to do your research and budget accordingly.
International Volunteer Programs Association has a lot of general information as well as links to related sites. Volunteer Guide lists many volunteer vacation opportunities. American Hiking offers trips to help build and maintain hiking trails in local and national parks across the country. There is also a plethora of sites offering volunteer opportunities abroad, such as Global Aware, Global Volunteers, Cross-Cultural Solutions, Me to We, Projects Abroad and uVolunteer.
Whether you take on one, a couple or several of the above ideas, come December, you’ll not only get a boost from knowing you’ve given as much as you wanted, you’ll also have one less thing to put on your holiday task list.
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