As part of my summer goal to get organized, I attempted a major closet purge and donated my still fabulous but not-worn-since-my-last-purge clothing to a local nonprofit. When I dropped off my clothing, not only did I feel good clearing out my space and supporting a great organization, I made sure to get a receipt so I could include the donation on my 2012 tax return. Donating clothes is just one of the countless ways to contribute to our community, and tax deductibility is only one of the many benefits to giving back. Interested in contributing, too? Here are a few ideas for ways to give back whether you have a lot to give or just a little (or even less than a little). Why Give? Like I mentioned above, there are so many benefits to giving back, it’d be hard to fit all of them into one article. Here are three major perks. • Tax benefits Your donations of money or items to qualifying organizations may be tax deductible. Be sure to document your donations throughout the year so you’re organized when tax time comes. I find free online services like the ItsDeductible Online program from Turbo Tax to be really helpful for this. If you have questions about the tax deductibility of your contributions, visit www.irs.gov or consult a reliable tax advisor. • Emotional benefits Whether you’re contributing your time, money or needed items to a worthwhile cause, a great benefit to giving back is the “helper’s high” that’s often a result. Charitable giving can help us to be grateful for the positive things we do have in our lives and can heighten our sense of well-being. • Social benefits Looking to meet new friends or a potential date? Try volunteering with an organization you support, and you may meet other interesting, like-minded people. Being involved with charitable causes can also be a great way to network if you’re job hunting or seeking new professional connections. Ways to Give The current economic state means that times are extremely tough, and although nonprofits and the communities they serve are in desperate need of assistance, it can be hard for a lot of people to give back right now. However, I encourage you to give back to a cause you believe in, even if you think your contribution is too small to make a difference. I honestly believe every little bit helps, and I’ve heard that time and time again from nonprofits in the area. Here are a handful of ideas for giving back, even if you think you have nothing to contribute. Monetary Donations Donations of money are almost always needed by charities, but I’ve heard people say they don’t feel as fulfilled contributing money as they would by volunteering. When you contribute money, try to visualize how the money will be used and the impact it can have. For instance, if you mail a check to a local food bank, take a minute to view the check as meals for neighbors in your community who are in need, even thinking of the actual food items the donation can buy. According to the MSU Student Food Bank, a donation of $25 allows them to buy approximately 56 pounds of food; visualizing 56 pounds of food instead of just $25 may help you to better realize the true significance of your contribution. Don’t think your contribution can make a difference? Even a few dollars can help. Maybe you can’t donate $25 every month to charity, but can you give $5? What if you brownbag it at work one day a month instead of going out for lunch or cut out a couple of lattes, and then set aside that money for charity? Another idea: save your pocket change. Put your extra coins in a jar and give the funds to a cause you support once or twice a year. You could even put a jar on your kitchen counter or desk at work and invite your family or coworkers to contribute. Donations of Items I honestly don’t know a single person who couldn’t benefit from going through her or his home and putting together a bag of items to donate. Clearing out your space of extra clothes, toys, pet stuff, etc. and passing it along to someone who would actually use it is a win-win. Don’t be afraid to be creative! A friend of mine who’s an avid gardener recently donated perennial flowers to a local youth center and donated seeds to help expand a community garden. Volunteering your Time I know, I know — we’re all busy. It’s always a struggle for me to find time to volunteer, but I feel great every time I do. If you can’t commit to volunteering regularly, there are tons of opportunities to help on a one-time basis. Any time there’s something like a 5k race for charity or a fundraising concert or festival, chances are they could use volunteers. There are even ways to help out nonprofits without leaving your house! No matter how little or how much you’re able to give back, there are countless opportunities to contribute and numerous benefits to doing so. Not sure where to start? Visit sites like www.volunteermatch.org or www.charitynavigator.org for ideas. There’s sure to be a way to give back that’s right for you.
April Clobes is Executive Vice President/Chief Operating Officer for MSU Federal Credit Union in East Lansing. She can be contacted by e-mail or by calling (517) 333-2254.