If you are like me, you want to give back to the community and help others, but have more than a little trouble just giving your money to an organization not knowing where the money is being used. In some cases, you simply want your donations to serve a specific purpose. Sometimes, getting an answer on how your donation is being used is like speaking in symbols. Some instances are just a matter of not trusting the charity like with several of the American Red Cross’s purported misappropriations of donations, and Alonzo Mourning Charities and other celebrity foundations are spending money flying and putting up their celebrity friends rather than using the money for programs. In these cases, the news is very disheartening and can cause one to lose trust in those organizations. Then of course, there are those of you who may have the desire, but not the monetary means to help out, which in this economy is not a very rare thing. Fortunately, there are several other ways to help others without ever touching your checkbook or wallet.
Donating unused or unwanted items
I can’t imagine anyone not having a kitchen cabinet, closet, garage, or even a storage unit that has “stuff” just sitting there collecting dust. Homeless shelters can use clothing, bedding & bath, and kitchenware in addition to donations of canned goods. Libraries are always welcoming donations of books, and toys (they sometimes take non-educational ones as well) as are local schools. The Salvation Army, Goodwill, AmVets, and many others will take everything mentioned above as well as household goods, sporting equipment. If your kid outgrows his clothes, and you don’t know anyone who can use the hand-me-downs, why not give them to a shelter so that a child doesn’t have to walk around in rags. If your diet is working really well and you lost so much weight that your clothes don’t fit, why not give them to a second-hand store so that people with less means can get some use out of them. Look in your closet: does everyone really need all those shoes and sneakers? Give them away so someone else can enjoy the comfort of having something soft between their feet and the concrete.
Giving your time
This is perhaps the most valuable and welcome thing that you can give to another. There are so many options that it’s staggering to think that some people can just sit on a couch all day doing nothing when they can be out bringing a smile to someone’s face. There are just so many ways to help others, it should be easy to find something that you can do. Just off the top of my head, I can come up with:
- Serve meals at a soup kitchen
- Visit a retirement community and spend time with the elderly who have no family
- Volunteer at your local sports complex working the vending areas, coaching kids’ sports teams, or helping to maintain the grounds
- Join Habitat for Humanity and help build homes for those that cannot afford them
- Partner with the United Way or Make-A-Wish Foundation and help make a sick child’s dream come true
- Get involved at your local library or with the school district and volunteer to help people learn to read
- Volunteer at a local hospital
- Volunteer at the local ASPCA or animal shelter–the furry ones need some love too
- Go to your place of worship and simply tell them that you want to volunteer for whatever they have going on
- Sign up to be a Big Brother or a Big Sister and influence the life of a youngster
With any of these endeavors, you will make an immediate impact on someone’s life. Sometimes, all it takes is seeing their eyes light up or the smile that comes across their face when they see that someone is actually taking the time to visit, help, or teach to make it all worthwhile.
Donate your services
Are you a doctor or nurse practitioner who has a little time to donate toward helping people at the free clinic or your place of worship. Maybe you are a tax preparer or accountant who can offer to donate some time to help the less fortunate get their taxes done. Barber, hairstylist, nail tech or other beauty industry worker? The homeless shelters and job placement services for the homeless and veterans are in need of help getting their patrons cleaned up and presentable. Teachers are needed to help with adult reading and ESOL programs all over the place. There are a multitude of situations where services can be given to those in need.
Of course, you can still take the deduction on your taxes for any mileage driven or certain out-of-pocket costs that are incurred to accomplish your goals when it comes to donating your time. The deduction is just like cash, though, in that the organization must be an IRS-recognized charity. As with any tax-related issue you should consult a professional, but if you are a do-it-yourselfer, IRS Publication 526 is where you want to look for guidance. But, that shouldn’t be the primary reason for helping others. You should genuinely want to do it, to make a difference in the community in which you live and work, and to make an impact on someone’s life. That is what being part of a community is truly about after all…or at least it should be.
I’m sure I missed a number of other opportunities to give back and help others. Feel free to tell me, and help give others some good ideas on how to make a difference in another’s life.