Donating your time or money to a worthy cause helps make a positive difference in the world, which is enough of a good reason to give. But there are many other benefits worth exploring:
• A sense of purpose. Helping people in need can enlarge your world and transform you into a more important part of the community. Whether you give out of a sense of connectedness, or for political or spiritual reasons, taking positive action to solve problems can be personally fulfilling.
• Improved well-being. Giving to others can improve your physical health, self-esteem and mental health. One day you’ll retire, so think about the findings of a 2010 Cornell University study, which found that baby boomers who volunteered on environmental projects gained huge benefits. “Environmental stewardship is strongly linked to greater physical activity, better self-rated health and fewer symptoms of depression over a period of 20 years,” the study found. Environmental volunteers are also half as likely as non-volunteers to feel depressed later in life, while other forms of volunteering cut depression by about 10%.
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• Society benefits. “Nearly 20% of donors nationwide said that the most important reason they donated was to help people meet basic needs such as food, shelter, clothing and heat,” and 17% said “making the world a better place” motivated them, according to Philanthropy Matters, a publication of the Center on Philanthropy. Americans gave almost $300 billion to domestic charities in 2010, according to the Giving USA Foundation and the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University.
• Tax deductions. Society repays you with a nice deduction from your taxes for most charitable donations, but you need to have proof. “The IRS requires a receipt for each tax-deductible contribution of $250 or more,” according to the United Way. “Depending on the amount or type of your gift, you may need to provide additional documents with your tax form, such as Form 8283 for each non-cash donation exceeding $500.”
• Matching gifts. Many corporations will match your charitable contributions, sometimes dollar-for-dollar, and help you make them with automatic payroll deductions. This will not only maximize the impact of your giving, but also influence your company’s charitable activities by directing dollars to the charity of your choice.
• Personal satisfaction. You can strike a blow against diseases or situations that have hit you personally. “With a father and four of his siblings dead from the same disease, I can look at the check I send to the Alzheimer’s Association and see something that is every bit as therapeutic as any new therapy that money may help create. I see new drug trials, and respite care, and a light against enveloping darkness,” Esquire writer and author Charles P. Pierce wrote in “Sweet Charity: The Benefits of Giving Back” for O, the Oprah Magazine.
Two last points:
1. When you contribute to a charity, be sure it’s a legitimate organization. Check with the Better Business Bureau, which has a website that allows you to check out whether a given charity is legitimate.
2. Find out how much of your donation will be spent on administrative costs. You can look up this information on many charities online at Charity Navigator.
Do you contribute or donate your time to a charity? Why did you decide to get involved? We’d love to hear your story!
Steve Higgins became a freelance writer in 2007 after a 25-year career as a business reporter and editor for daily newspapers in Georgia, Florida, Arizona and Connecticut. To learn more about Steve, please visit www.higginswriting.com.
Kiplinger publications editorial director Kevin McCormally notes the five things you must know about charitable donations.