Now that you’ve settled comfortably into 2016, what’s most pressing on your to-do list? I have an idea…it’s time to give back!

 

With holiday shopping a distant memory and money (hopefully) a bit more plentiful, January is the time the perfect time to support nonprofits near and dear to your heart. But, how can you be sure you’re maximizing your efforts for charity?

 

DONATION DO’S

What’s Your Cause? Step back and think about what causes are important to you. Are you a people person or more of an animal lover? Is education high on your priority list or would you rather see your dollars support social services like eliminating homelessness or providing medical care to those with little or no insurance? Perhaps a loved one was helped by a charity and you’d like to give back as a way to say thanks? No matter what your passion may be, there are wonderful nonprofit organizations supporting it. Need some guidance? Check out Charity Navigator and browse the thousands of nonprofits they feature on their site.

 

Give to the Right Charity. If you are de-cluttering your home and donating items you no longer want or need, consider how these items will be used. If you don’t want those holey old towels would someone else really want them? Probably not. But an animal rescue could definitely use them. So be creative….but also realistic. If your donated goods are broken, missing pieces, or don’t work at all (in the case of electronics), take them to the dumpster.

 

Think Outside The Box. If you don’t have much money to spare, consider signing up to take part in a nonprofit sponsored activity. Friends and family are often happy to sponsor you to run a 5K or in an online crowdfunded activity like the ever-popular Ice Bucket Challenge. The Red Cross found that 70% of Americans donate after seeing a friend’s post about giving.

 

Give and You Will Receive. Did you know that you can get a tax deduction when you donate to certain charities? If this is important to you, make sure that you are donating to a 501c3 public charitable status organization. GuideStar allows you to verify a charity’s nonprofit status and review their latest IRS 990 filing. Remember to always get a receipt from the charity as your proof of donation. You’ll need this when filing your taxes.

 

DONATION DON’TS

Don’t Give Blindly. Do your research and find out what the charity stands for. Verifying they’re legitimate is vital, but also find out whether they have the same values as you. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t give on-the-spot donations (i.e. donating to the local Boy Scout trip as they fundraise in front of your favorite grocery store) but this does help you to plan your charitable giving budget for the year.

 

No Trash Please! This is especially important if you’re donating to a food bank. Check the dates on all cans carefully before donating them. Donating expired food is tacky. Plus it creates more work (not to mention expense) for the charity you’ve donated it to.

 

Bring It Yourself. If possible, bring your donation to the charity’s shop yourself rather than use their pick-up facility. This helps keep costs down and maximize the amount that can be used to help others. This is especially important if you’re donating a car to charity – some intermediary agencies do not donate much money to charity after receiving the car. If it’s essential you use a car donation agency, do some research to make sure you choose one that donates the most back to the nonprofit.

 

Your Time is Just as Important. The gift of time is priceless. Consider volunteering your time at your local homeless shelter or food bank – they’re especially busy at this time of year and could use some extra hands. If you have IT, legal, or marketing skills a charity would appreciate, offer to provide advice and guidance. Love taking photos? Reach out to the local animal shelter and offer to take photos of their adoptable dogs and cats for their Petfinder page. You have skills…put them to good use!

 

If you know of any ways to make a real difference for charities, let us know! Share your thoughts below or tweet @ForcePosHouston.