Giving to charity when budgets are tight

Published 3:07 pm Monday, December 22, 2008

By Darragh Doiron

The News staff writer

While several local charities are still counting their holiday intake, families are counting their budgets and weighing how many outside stockings they can fill. The Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance has tips on keeping the spirit of giving alive.

For instance, The United Board of Missions food pantry has a stock for now, but operators are always looking ahead.

“The fuller they are the better, we feel. They can always be fuller,” Loyd Patterson, UMB financial officer, said.

“Charities invariably find themselves in a bind when the economy tanks; not only is there less funding, but there are more people that need assistance,” Michael Clayton, president and chief executive officer of the Better Business Bureau in Southeast Texas, said. “Donations of money may be hard for cash strapped families to provide, but there are many other ways people can support a charity and contribute to the season of giving. Even in times of hardship, donors are rich in opportunity.” 

The BBB encourages families to explore alternatives to cash gifts. Here are some ideas:

Toys, Food or Other Items

Many organizations can put “in-kind” gifts to good use, but there are points to keep in mind. First, the donor should contact the charity to find out what donated items are needed. Donors sometimes think any item they give will be useful to someone, but the truth is that broken toys are not welcomed by even the most needy children and families, and soiled or torn clothes will not sell in a thrift store. Disposing of unwanted or unusable “gifts” actually costs charities heavily in manpower and fuel costs.


Shop Thrifty

Goodwill Industries reports that as personal finances shrink, more people are buying donated clothes at its stores. And additionally, sales benefit its programs to provide job training. Buyers should note though, that not all thrift stores equally benefit the charities whose names are associated with them. For more information about giving to charity thrift shops, plus information about related tax deductions, donors can go to  


Car Donations

Changes in tax rules beginning in 2005 have in many cases lowered the charitable deductions for car donations. Donors should check out the charity’s activities and find out how the charity distributes the proceeds from car donations, and how proceeds benefit those in need. In some cases, the charity may receive a flat amount or a small percentage of the car’s re-sale.


Your Time

Personal rewards of volunteering time can be great. Volunteering doesn’t have to involve direct assistance to those in need, such as ladling soup at a homeless shelter. Assisting with office work or other behind-the-scenes tasks can be just as helpful. While the value of a donor’s time is not deductible, some out-of-pocket expenses directly related to volunteering, like transportation costs, may be.


Every bit helps

While there are many ways to give this holiday season, keep in mind that even a small cash gift often produces big benefits. For example, Feeding America says that $1.00 in cash can help bring up to $30 worth of food to those in need because the organization has economies of scale not available to the public.  

For more advice on charitable giving, including BBB reports on more than 1,000 national charitable organizations, go to In Southeast Texas, call 835-5348 or 800-685-7650.

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