Thursday, December 3, 2009

Don’t Have Cash? Four Alternative Things You Can Donate

While it’s true that we should probably be thinking of others all year, it seems that we are more likely to want to give during the holiday season. Though with the recession dampening our holiday spirits (and our pocketbooks), it can be difficult to come up with the cash necessary to help others right now. The good news is that you don’t have to give cash in order to channel your feelings of generosity. Here are four alternative things you can donate:

1. Yourself. What?

Give the gift of yourself. Head down to the blood bank and donate blood or plasma. Consider donating bone marrow too. There are often shortages of these items, especially if you are a rare type. You can provide the gift of life and health to someone else, without spending more than what it costs to buy a gallon of gas to drive to the center. If your hair is long enough, you can donate your locks. Some programs will accept hair that is as short as six inches, although most programs require at least eight to 12 inches minimum. This gift can provide confidence to someone struggling with cancer or some other illness.

2. Time

You may not have extra cash, but do you have extra time? If so, consider heading to the soup kitchen to take a shift handing out meals to those who are less fortunate. You can also volunteer at woman’s and children shelters, food banks and to help with programs like Sub for Santa. Volunteer to help pick up items for charity drives, or agree to take a turn manning a booth at a charity fundraiser. Go to the senior center and spend an hour or two visiting with the lonely or playing a game of checkers or cards.

3. Stuff

Many of us have more stuff than we know what to do with. Instead of keeping it around, or selling it to get a few extra bucks, why not donate it for use by someone else? If you have items that are in good shape, but that you don’t want or need, you can donate them to a thrift shop, shelter or some other good cause. And, if you remember to get a receipt for the value of your donation, it can also mean a tax deductions for you come April.

4. Investments

Many people don’t realize that you can donate investments. If you have investments that you don’t mind unloading, you can donate those instead of cash. If your investment has appreciated in value, you can donate without having to pay capital gains, and you can deduct the entire value of the investment if you itemize. If you lost money though, you might be better off selling first, so that you can get the tax break for your long-term loss, and then donate that money to the charity of your choice (and get a tax advantage for the donation).

You can also donate other investments and assets. There are donor-advised funds available that can help you be generous while avoiding capital gains taxes. Life insurance policies and real estate are also possibilities. Just make sure you consult with a tax professional before you take the plunge.

Creative Donations

There is no reason to limit your generosity by your immediate cash reserves. There are many things that charitable organizations need, and you can provide these things. A little creativity, and a determination to help others in any way you can, will ensure that you share in the spirit of giving this holiday season.

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