Now that you have oodles of cash from being a socially responsible investor, winning your Oscar pool, and donating sperm, you want to give some of it away to better humanity. (How Mother Theresa-ian.) Or maybe you just want a tax write-off. (How Donald Trump-ian). We don't judge; giving is giving, and the people to whom you donate will always be appreciative, regardless of your motives. More good news: you don't just have to donate money - you can donate food, clothes, pet supplies, blood, feral midgets, or even just time. So roll up your sleeves and get ready to donate!


There are literally thousands of charitable organizations out there, all of which represent beautiful, tear-inducing causes. When most people think of charities, they think of diseases or helping children (best case scenario: helping diseased children), but there are tons of other causes to which you can donate. According to the IRS, there are nine main types of non-profit organizations:

  1. Charitable Organizations. Includes religious, scientific, and educational institutions as well as private foundations.

  2. Social Welfare Organizations. Includes civic leagues and community organizations.

  3. Labor and Agricultural Organizations. Includes labor unions and farm bureaus.

  4. Business Leagues. Includes trade associations and chambers of commerce.

  5. Social Clubs. Includes hobby and country clubs.

  6. Fraternal Societies. Includes lodges and other such organizations.

  7. Veteran's Organizations. Includes organizations of past or present members of the Armed Forces of the United States.

  8. Employee's Associations. Includes voluntary employees' benefit associations and local associations of employees.

  9. Political Organizations. Includes campaign committees and political parties.

    Our recommendation for a tenth:

  10. Start-up Websites. Especially "how-to" ones. Please? We're hungry. And cold.

When choosing a charity, it is important to decide what is most important to you. Most likely, it will be something that has personally affected you. For example, consider your Alma Mater, medical research for a disease that a loved one has endured, the training fund for an athlete you admire, or a local community initiative. Maybe you want to donate to the National Democratic Committee or the Human Rights Campaign or the Anti-Defamation League or breast cancer research. There are too many to list (obviously), so we suggest that you start out by deciding what you personally feel is an important cause and go on from there.

To check out a complete listing of non-profit organizations, go to the IRS website and use their search function, or you can search on the site.

One final factor you will want to consider is how much of your donation actually goes to the cause. While some foundations give 100% of the donation to those in need, others retain a percentage to cover operating costs. Charities will be up front about this (they have to, according to the IRS) so make sure to do your research so that you end up with an arrangement that makes you comfortable.


OK, so you know that you're interested in a general cause (e.g., "a Jewish charity," "a homeless shelter charity," "a midget charity"...). Before you give away your hard-earned money, you need to make sure that your donation is going to a reputable organization. We don't mean to be cynical Gen-Xers or anything, but there are a lot of scams out there (e.g., The Foundation to Provide Fancy Meals for Poor Writers). So you must be absolutely sure that your charity is legit.

Lucky for you, there are lots of places you can go to check out an organization:

  1. Start with the IRS, which provides a list of all of the organizations that have received tax exempt status. These are the groups that have been approved by the government because they have complied with the laws surrounding the forming, organizing, and running of a non-profit.

  2. The site provides a database of approved organizations, as well as general advice and information for donors.

  3. The Federal Trade Commission, which lists tips for donors such as:

    • Ask for written information. A legitimate charity will give you information outlining its mission, how your donation will be distributed, and proof that your contribution is tax deductible.

    • Watch out for similar sounding names. Some phony charities use names that sound or look like those of respected, legitimate organizations. (The same kind of trick that schools like "Harvurd" and "Kornell" use.)

    • Refuse high-pressure appeals. Legitimate charities won't push you to give on the spot.

    • Don't send cash. For security and tax record purposes, pay by check. Write the official name of the charity on your check.
  4. The Better Business Bureau has a portion of its site devoted to donating money. Go to their charity section to get reports on specific charities, ask about a charity, lodge a complaint against a charity, and get more tips on charitable giving.

  5. The Chronicle of Philanthropy provides the latest news on the goings on in the non-profit world. This site also highlights charities that have been identified by watchdog groups as especially deserving and reputable.


There is no right or wrong amount to give when it comes to donating money. When coming up with a figure though, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Any amount of money you can afford to give will be appreciated. It is a cliché but every penny does count so don't shy away from donating because you only have $10 to spare.

  • Most charities suggest some level of giving. For example, a mail solicitation from a charity might say something like "check this box to make a $50 donation, check this box to make a $100 donation," etc. Remember that you can choose one of these levels or you can write in your own amount if you prefer. Don't feel "boxed" in by their suggestions.

  • Several organizations offer benefits for donations. These can range from free tote bags and T-shirts to having your name plastered on the side of a library. While these perks are nice, remember that the cost of these premiums might be taken out of donations, leaving less to go to the actual charity. If you feel strongly about all of your money being directly donated, check with the charity for their policy before you donate.

  • There are several ways you can structure your donation. You can give a one-time gift, an annual gift, or even a monthly gift if you so choose. Most charities that solicit donations do so once a year but you can always donate on your own schedule.

  • Only donate money that you are sure you can spare. It's pretty counterproductive for you to get evicted for not paying your rent because all your money has gone to house the homeless.

  • See if your employer has a "matching gift" program. Many companies will match the donation an employee makes to a charity. This is a wonderful way to double your gift and force that nasty company of yours to grow a soul.

  • If you want to claim your donation as a tax reduction (we'll talk about that more in Step 5), you must get a receipt. So you can't write on your tax form that you gave Crazy Dave on the corner $1000. (Unless Crazy Dave is a legitimate organization from which you can get a receipt, of course.)


Donate money? You're poor enough as it is! You need cash. Well, Scrooge McDuck, you can still donate to charity (and possibly get those all-important tax deductions) by donating your unwanted junk to a needy cause. Donating clothing to thrift shops or books to school libraries are obvious options, but here are some lesser-known possibilities:

  • Cars. Many national charity organizations accept cars of almost any condition. These organizations will pick up your car, sell it, and then use the proceeds for their cause. It is much simpler than going through the hassle of selling it yourself and you're allowed to claim it for a tax deduction. Organizations that participate in car donation programs include:

    If you prefer that your Shagmobile go to an individual who can't afford a Shag of his or her own, contact Charity Cars, an organization that provides vehicles to disadvantaged families.

  • Computers. Non-profit groups, schools, and religious organizations often depend on the technology that is donated since it is too expensive for them to keep up with the latest products on their own - nobody should still be working on a Commodore 64. You can contact your local school or religious group to see about donating your computer, or you can contact Share The Technology or the Computer Recycling Center (both of which match donors with recipients across the country). If you would prefer your computer go to an individual, Computers for Youth places computers in the homes of disadvantaged children.

  • Eyeglasses. Do you have an old pair of glasses lying around? Maybe your prescription has changed, or maybe the tortoise shell frames are too out of style, or maybe you got laser eye surgery, or maybe you enjoy bumping into people as an excuse to grope them. Perv. Fortunately, there are people who can benefit from your old glasses. Lens Crafters, Canon USA, and the Lions Club International all participate in the "Gift of Sight Program" which recycles your old glasses.

  • Musical instruments. Remember how your mom made you practice the piano/violin/tuba/kazoo for hours on end? Get revenge by giving it away! The Directory of Youth Orchestras will help you find groups that can pass your instrument along to a child who can't afford his or her own.

  • Pet supplies.The Humane Society depends on donations, so give them any old leashes, cages, food bowls, water bowls, and interestingly-shaped feces.

  • Food. Pretend that you just threw a huge party with tons of friends (we say "pretend" because we are perfectly aware that you don't have any friends). What to do with all of those leftovers? Contact Second Harvest to find a food bank in your area - they'll take any food you have (leftovers, canned goods, almost any kind of food). Just remember: most food banks will not accept food that has already been opened.

  • E-donating. Web sites are springing up that allow you to donate a percentage of the amount of money you spend when you shop off of one of their links to the charity of your choice. Some of these sites will offer you discounts as an incentive to continue shopping through them. Some examples:


The first thing you need to know is this: not all charitable donations are tax-deductible. This is because "tax-exempt" does not mean "tax-deductible." If you want to make sure you can deduct your donation, look for an organization that has 501(c)(3) status - this means that donations are deductible. If you aren't sure about the 501(c)(3) status of your organization of choice, then ask (they'll be more than happy to tell you).

According to the IRS, you can deduct donations to:

  • Religious organizations
  • Federal, state, or local governments
  • Non-profit schools and hospitals
  • Public parks and recreation facilities
  • War veterans groups

You can't deduct donations to:

  • Individuals
  • Labor unions
  • Social or sports clubs
  • Foreign organizations (except certain Canadian and Mexican charities)
  • Homeowner's associations
  • Political candidates
  • Time

Once you have determined that your gift is in fact deductible, dig out the receipts that prove you made your donation. If you have given a non-monetary gift (such as a car or clothing), you are entitled to deduct the fair market price, which means that you might need to get an appraisal. If you get something in exchange for a donation (say, tickets to a charity ball), you must deduct what is the fair market price of that perk.

Once the amounts are set, you will need to fill out Form 1040 (you need Adobe to read this file). You will also need Form 8283 if your donations total more than $500. As you fill out these forms, itemize your deductions (hence, the receipts). Here are the basic rules:

  • Gifts under $250 can be backed up by either a receipt or a written record recording the date, amount, and recipient of the contribution.
  • Gifts over $250 require a receipt.
  • Gifts over $5000 require a receipt as well as a written appraisal for non-monetary gifts.

Here's the last good piece of news: if you donate less that 20% of your Adjusted Gross Income in a particular year, you can deduct it all. If you donate more than 20%, you'll have to talk to the IRS to figure out exactly what deductions you qualify for.

The last thing to remember: timing is everything. In order to qualify for a deduction in a given tax year, you must make your gift by December 31 of that year.

All this tax stuff is tricky, and honestly, it gives us headaches. But no one said that giving to charity was easy. For complete information, read this full explanation of the rules from the IRS.

Now go out there and make Gandhi proud!