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Giving Back

6 Money-Free Ways to Give Back to Your Community

The winter holiday season is here

For many of us, that's a time when our charitable inclinations kick into high gear. If your budget doesn't make a monetary donation possible or you just want to take a more active approach than simply writing a check, there are several ways to give back to your community. Here are six.

1. Volunteer your time

Most not-for-profits have plenty of work available for volunteers of all ages and abilities. If you need ideas on where to volunteer, check websites such as VolunteerMatch (volunteermatch.org), Idealist (idealist.org) and All for Good (allforgood.org). Or use a search engine to find the kind of charity you want to support, such as "pet rescue," followed by your geographic area, or "disaster victims, volunteer opportunities." You may even be able to volunteer from home. Search the aforementioned sites for "virtual volunteer" options ranging from helping with research and phone calls to designing a website. Or, if you're good with words, you may be able to help by writing small articles or press releases.

2. Share your shopping deals

You can get many items to donate at grocery and drug stores for free (or close to it). Simply match up a good store sale price with manufacturers' coupons. Websites such as couponmom.com and thekrazycouponlady.com help you spot these "coupon-match" deals at your local stores. Donate your bargain-buy nonperishable food items to a local shelter, church or food bank. These organizations may also take your donations of personal-care items like shampoo and toothpaste. They're ideal for creating hygiene kits for homeless individuals and families, or disaster victims who are displaced from their homes.

3. Make good use of credit card rewards

Have you stacked up a bunch of frequent-flyer miles, cash-back or other credit card rewards? Consider donating them to charity. Your card issuer may list on its website a group of organizations to which you can donate your rewards directly. Another easy option: redeem your cash-back reward, then donate that amount to the charity of your choice.

4. Set up a free curbside library

If your local zoning laws allow it, build a small, weather-protected, outdoor book holder to share books with neighbors and even strangers. Encourage kids and adults to browse the book "library," borrow or permanently take books they'd like and donate their own books, too. You can find blueprints for curbside libraries at various online sites, including littlefreelibrary.org.

5. Buy from retailers who 'give back'

Consider buying gifts and items you needed anyway from companies that donate a percentage of your purchase price to charitable causes. Some advertise their programs on TV and social media. For example, a well-known eyewear retailer donates a pair of glasses to charity for every pair purchased. A national shoe company gives money to animal charities for each pair of a certain kind of shoe sold. And many donate a portion of all sales to various not-for-profits. Use a search engine to find out how you can use your shopping dollars to benefit the causes you care about.

6. Give of yourself — literally

It may sound odd, but you can donate parts of yourself: your hair, blood and even organs to help others. Here are some details.

Hair: If your hair is at least 10 inches long, you could cut and donate it to a charity that creates hairpieces for people who have lost their hair as a result of medical treatments. Some specialize in wigs for children. Just check out the agency before you donate to make sure it is a quality organization with a good record.

Blood and plasma: The Red Cross and medical facilities always need blood donations. You can also donate plasma, which is one component of blood. Find a nearby donation location at redcrossblood.org.

Organs: See if you're a match for someone who needs a living kidney or liver donor. Get details at the American Transplant Foundation (www.americantransplantfoundation.org) or a local hospital. You can also choose to donate your organs or entire body after you've died. Sign up online or in person at your local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). Find more information at www.organdonor.gov.

Keep Track

Most people don't give to charity to get a tax deduction. But you may as well enjoy that benefit if your donations qualify. Keep records of where and when you gave items and, when possible, get receipts for your donations.

You can't take a tax deduction for the value of time you spend volunteering. But you may be able to deduct out-of-pocket costs for expenses incurred while volunteering. Record the miles you drove or other transportation costs, such as for bus passes, taxis, and parking and give the records to your tax preparer.

Last Words

Charities will always need monetary donations. But not everyone can or wants to give cash. With a little creativity, you can satisfy your charitable inclinations and help a cause that's dear to you.

Nov 29 | 5:30pm
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