Charity Without Cash: 5 Other Ways to Donate

Last Updated Sep 28, 2011 4:24 PM EDT

Cash contributions to charities and religious organizations fell more than 5% in 2010, according to new survey results from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It was the second-biggest category decline, following entertainment spending.

To some extent, that's understandable: Many Americans are still struggling financially. But donating money doesn't mean you have to write a big check. If you're interested in giving -- but are short on cash -- consider these alternative strategies.

Apply Credit Card Points
Wondering how to spend your credit card points? See if you can turn them into a charitable donation. The MembersGive program at American Express, for example, lets all AmEx customers with points-based rewards cards redeem those points as a donation to any of the charities listed on GuideStar.org. Charities get $10 for every 1,000 points you redeem, and you pay no transaction fee when converting points into donations. (Those who donate their cash-back rewards, though, must pay a 2.25% transaction fee). Donations are tax-deductible.

Donate While Shopping
Certain online retailers will donate a portion of sales from your online purchases to the charity of your choice. Here are a couple of examples:
  • OneCause: Online shoppers get to contribute up to 20% of every eligible purchase to their preferred cause or school. Partnering merchants include Macy's and Home Depot.
  • GoodShop: Includes stores like Amazon, Apple and Nordstrom and donates an average 3% of your total sale -- and up to 20% -- to your charity of choice. The percentage donated is indicated below the merchant's logo.
Note: Be sure to read the fine print. Each retailer may have its own rules and some purchases may not qualify.

Donate Unused Vacation Hours
To boost morale and improve retention, some companies and universities have implemented "vacation donation programs" that let employees donate their unused vacation hours to fellow workers in financial need due to illness. Check with your HR department.

During times of national crisis -- such as after Hurricane Katrina -- the IRS has encouraged employers to expand their programs and pool employees' donations to go directly to major relief efforts. In those cases, the companies receive a tax deduction. Employees, however, don't.

Turn Volunteer Hours Into Cash
While some companies will match employees' charitable donations dollar for dollar, some will also match your volunteer hours at a predetermined rate. For example, at Microsoft, the company matches volunteer time at $17 per hour through its Volunteer Time Matching program -- up to $12,000 per year. Boeing will donate $250 for every 25 hours that employees volunteer, up to $6,000 per year. Ask your benefits department whether your company will back up your efforts with cold hard cash.
Give the Gift of Stock
Many organizations, from The Boys and Girls Clubs to PETA, will gladly accept stock donations, which they can then sell and fully cash in themselves. And by donating stock (rather than cashing it in and then donating), you can get some big tax advantages: According to the IRS, you don't have to pay capital gains taxes on the profit and can deduct the current market value of the stock from your taxable income - as long as you've owned the stock for a year.
Farnoosh Torabi is a personal finance journalist and commentator. She is the author of the new book Psych Yourself Rich, Get the Mindset and Discipline You Need to Build Your Financial Life. Follow her at www.farnoosh.tv and on Twitter/farnoosh.
More on MoneyWatch Photo source: Howard Lake's photo stream on Flickr
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    Farnoosh Torabi is a personal finance journalist and commentator. She is the author of the new book Psych Yourself Rich, Get the Mindset and Discipline You Need to Build Your Financial Life. Follow her at www.farnoosh.tv and on Twitter at @farnoosh.

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