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How to Get the Most from Donating and Volunteering

Updated on August 1, 2011

While giving comes naturally to some people, it is a learned skill for others.  It might not be obvious which organizations and individuals are the best to give to, and it might also be difficult to assess which groups do the most with the money they're given.  It is also sometimes difficult to determine whether one should volunteer time, donate goods, send cash, or do something else to help make the better place.

While giving back is different for everyone, some approaches are better (both for the individual and the world at large) than others.  Below I shall walk you through some major things to consider before you donate or volunteer so that you can walk down the path to benevolence with not only easy passage but a spring in your step!


Choose Organizations Wisely

Not all nonprofit organizations are created equal.  Though you might be thinking of the various causes they support, the way these nonprofits are run internally actually makes a big difference.  Do you know how much of your donation will be going toward running the organization's overhead?  Do you know what percentage of each dollar is going toward paying for expensive (and environmentally damaging) mailing and leaflets?  

When choosing which organizations to donate to, try to pick ones that let you know exactly where your money is going.  Transparency is very important, and you deserve to know exactly were your contributions will be utilized.  I also recommend avoiding organizations that spend a large proportion of their funds on advertising.  Yes, it is important to get the word out there, but there are plenty of amazing charities out there who utilize social media and word of mouth to share their cause, and if they are truly good, chances are people will talk about them without the constant reminder of wasteful junk mail and fliers.  

Also go for charities that are engaged with projects that are interesting to you.  Are you into education?  Donate to schools!  Are you a big proponent of your local community?  Look into nearby non profits that are active in it.  Do you love wild animals?  Consider donating to organizations that protect them and their environments.  By donating to a cause in which you have true interest, you can get greater personal pleasure from your good deed, plus feel more engaged and involved in the movement.

The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want
The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want

This is one of my favorite books, and it covers on all sorts of things that are scientifically proven to make people happier. Committing random acts of kindness is only one of those things!


Mix It Up

In The How of Happiness, A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want, research psychologist and UC California professor of psychology Sonja Lyubomirsky explains that you must vary the types of ways in which you give back to the world if you want to continue to benefit form your benevolence.

This realization gives a whole new meaning to the supposed value of random acts of kindness - if we continue to do the same good works over and over, we'll get used to them and stop feeling so good about them. By finding new efforts to support and ways to improve the world and our communities, we can enjoy the thrill and excitement of doing good needs in new ways over and over again.

Volunteer for Fun and Friends

Donating cash or old clothing, cars, and furniture is convenient, but it not nearly as fun or rewarding as getting directly involved in a cause.  

By volunteering, you will not only have the opportunity to see the direct result of your labor, but also have the chance to break away from your normal routine, try something new, and meet new people!  Even if you are very busy and do not have the chance to volunteer regularly, try to volunteer some time at least once a year - it is wonderfully rewarding, and a refreshing change from typical spurts of online donations and old clothing drop-offs.


Don't Forget to Get Your Tax Deductions!

There are many upsides to donating to charity, and one of them involves tax deductions!  A lot of people think that claiming their charitable donations is too much of a hassle and they neglect to record their good deeds, but claiming charitable gifts in your tax return is really not so hard. 

All you have to do is:

  • Track the value of any in-kind donations of thing such as clothing or furniture
  • Donate to qualifying organizations (they must be nonprofits with 501(c)(3) status)
  • Get receipts from organizations to which you donate
  • Record the value of what you have donated in Schedule A of Form 1040 (if the total value of what you have donated is less than $500) or Form 8283 (if the value is greater than $500)


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    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 7 years ago from San Francisco

      Thanks so much, Edweirdo! And WHOAH - I had not heard about the Susan Komen situation - how AWFUL!!! I get miffy at the thought of donations going toward frivolous adverts and parties, but that... that's downright embarrassing!! O____O

    • Edweirdo profile image

      Edweirdo 7 years ago from United States

      This is a great guide to giving back! I especially agree about choosing the right NPO or charity.

      There was a lot of hay made lately when the Susan Komen foundation revealed that they had spent millions of dollars of donation money suing other charities over the use of their trademarked slogan "For the Cure". What a terrible waste - no one who donated money for breast cancer research wants it spent on suing other charitable foundations!