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7 Ways to Give to Charity Without Writing a Check

Cameron Huddleston

Consider these alternative methods of helping organizations in need.



It's the season for giving -- not just to friends and families but also to organizations in need. Charities count on people's generosity at this time of the year because year-end donations often account for a large percentage of the annual contributions they receive. Charity Navigator surveyed 101 charities and found that they received, on average, 41% of their annual contributions in the last few weeks of the year.

SEE ALSO: A Good Time to Give to Family and Charity

So what do you do if you want to be charitable but don't have much room in your budget now? Here are seven ways you can make a difference without writing a check.

Install a giving app. Launched December 20, the Give 2 Charity app for Android phones (coming soon for iPhones) lets users earn points that can be exchanged for donations to select charities, including Make-A-Wish Foundation, American Cancer Society, American Red Cross, Habitat for Humanity, Action Against Hunger, Sierra Club and the Humane Society. It's free, but you have to give up a little of your privacy for it to work. Contributions are made possible by agreeing to share information about your locations, which is used by third parties. Location data are always aggregated -- never shared with the third parties on an individual basis -- and are not used for ad targeting. You also can earn more points by referring friends and answering in-app surveys. Another app for iPhone and Android, Charity Miles, lets you earn money for charity by walking, running or biking. Choose from nine charities and the app tracks your distance by using your phone's GPS. Bikers earn 10 cents per mile; walkers and runners earn 25 cents per mile.

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Donate your time. Plenty of groups need extra volunteers around the holidays to help those in need. The time you give can be just as valuable as a monetary gift. Plus, your employer may match your volunteer hours with funds. For example, Pfizer employees who volunteer at an organization for six hours a month for at least six months can apply for a $1,000 grant for that organization from the Pfizer Foundation Volunteer Program. Check with your company's human resources department to find out whether it has a volunteer matching program and what the requirements are. Although you don't get a tax deduction for donating your time, you can write off expenses you incur while working for a charity -- from the cost of driving your car (at 14 cents a mile) to the cost of ingredients for a casserole for a church-sponsored soup kitchen -- if you itemize on your federal return.

Donate your stuff. Clean out your closets and donate the things you no longer want to a charitable organization. For example, if you have old utensils, dishes, or pots and pans, check with your local Salvation Army, soup kitchen or house of worship to see if it needs those items for preparing and serving holiday meals. You can claim a deduction for donated items on your federal tax return if you itemize. Goodwill has a donation value guide that can help you figure out the market value of items you give.

Recycle your unwanted tech gear. Dell's Reconnect program will accept any brand of computer equipment in any condition -- as well as peripherals, accessories and Microsoft entertainment products, including Xboxes and Zunes -- at any participating Goodwill. To find a drop-off location, visit www.reconnectpartnership.com. Proceeds from your donation are returned to Goodwill.

Use a search engine that gives. Searching the Internet can generate money for a cause if you use a search engine such as GoodSearch.com. Powered by Yahoo, this site donates about a penny per search to a charity or school that you designate.

Shop with a cause. If you shop online, consider using a site that gives a percentage of your purchase or any cash back rewards you earn to a charity. GoodShop.com works with more than 2,500 retailers (including Amazon, Gap, Target, Staples and Macy’s) to give a percentage of almost every purchase back to a charity or school of your choosing. And the BoxTops4Education.com marketplace features more than 250 retailers that donate a certain number of eBoxTops (worth 10 cents each) for every qualifying $10 purchase to a school of your choice. If you sign up for a free account at Extrabux.com and do your online shopping through the site, you can earn cash back on purchases and opt to have that money donated directly to a charity (rather than sent to you by check or PayPal).

Donate when you dine. Launched in 2011 by GoodSearch, GoodDining donates up to 6% of your restaurant bill to a charity or school of your choice. The program includes more than 10,000 restaurants across the U.S. and Canada. You have to enroll in the program and register your credit or debit card -- and use the registered card to pay when you dine out. You also have to provide an e-mail address and opt in to receive marketing e-mails. If you don't want your inbox to be bombarded with marketing pitches, you might be able to help a group in need by dining out at a particular restaurant on a designated night. Many restaurants donate a portion of their proceeds from these special events to schools or organizations.

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