Americans are pretty generous. Individuals in the U.S. gave an estimated $240.6 billion to philanthropic organizations in 2014, according to Charity Navigator, a 4.2% increase from 2012. That’s more than double the amount given by corporations, foundations, and bequests combined.
Overall, 83% of Americans said they donate money to charitable causes, a 2013 Gallup poll found. Those with annual incomes greater than $75,000 were the most likely to donate, with 95% saying that had given money in the past year. But even lower-income Americans were generous with their cash. Sixty-seven percent of people who earned less than $30,000 per year also donated to charity.
Sharing your cash (or your time) has obvious benefits for the groups you support, which are counting on your generosity to fulfill their mission. But there’s also evidence that givers benefit as well. A study by researchers at Harvard Business School and the University of British Columbia found that giving made people happier. Plus, there are the tax benefits that can come with charitable donations if you itemize your income taxes.
Whether you earn a lot or a little, there are plenty of ways to support the causes that you believe in. And not all of them require a lot of cash or a lot of time. Here’s a list of five quick and easy ways for you to give a bit more to charity.
1. Sign up for Charity Miles
Fitness freaks can track the distance they run or bike and earn money for a charity at the same time with the Charity Miles app. Runners earn 25 cents per mile; bikers get 10 cents. Simply download the app, choose a charity to support (options include the Wounded Warrior Project, the Nature Conservancy, and Feeding America, among other groups), and start tracking the distance you run, walk, or bike. Funding for the donations comes from corporate sponsors.
2. Shop at generous retailers
Some retailers donate a portion of their total sales to charity. Shoe company Toms pledges to help “a person in need” with every purchase, donating shoes, eye care, and other services to people around the world. Eyeglasses retailer Warby Parker has a similar program, donating the equivalent of a pair of glasses for every one its customers buy.
Amazon’s Smile program is a somewhat more flexible approach to giving. You select a charity you want to support, and then Amazon donates 0.5% of your total eligible purchases to the organization.
While these retail-focused models for giving aren’t without their critics, they can be a way to show your support for certain causes while buying products you’d purchase anyway.
3. Take advantage of employer matching
Some companies will match employee donations to charitable organizations. If your employer offers this perk, you can easily double the impact of any gift you make. General Electric, Johnson & Johnson, Boeing, and Microsoft all offer charitable matching programs, according to Double the Donation.
Getting the matching donation usually involves filling out some simple paperwork. If you’re not sure if your company offers a matching donation, talk to your human resources department.
4. Clean out your closet
The next time you do a closet purge or clear out the garage, donate your unwanted stuff to a good cause rather than throwing it in the trash or selling it at a yard sale. In addition to big names like Goodwill, many local nonprofits run thrift stores and will happily accept your gently used items to sell.
Before you drop your items off, contact the charity to see what they will and will not accept. Some groups won’t take donations of old televisions or computers, while others don’t want mattresses, baby equipment, or furniture with torn upholstery or wobbly legs. Anything you donate should be clean and in good working order – remember, charities need to actually sell this stuff. Giving junk to a thrift shop is more of a burden than a help, since it takes up space in a warehouse and staff have to figure out how to dispose of it.
5. Set up a recurring donation
If it’s simple laziness that’s standing in the way of you giving more to charity, rather than a lack of cash, consider setting up an automatic donation. Many charities offer you the option of becoming a “sustaining” member. You agree to donate a certain amount of money per month, and the charity automatically bills your credit card or deducts your contribution from your bank account.
Setting up a recurring contribution takes a bit of work on the front end, but once you have everything in place, you don’t need to worry about it until you decide to cancel the contribution. This reduces the chances that you’ll forget to make a donation and is good for the charity as well, since they can count on receiving a specific amount of money from you every month.
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