5 Alternative Ways to Give to Charity

You still can help your favorite cause even if you don't have deep pockets.

'Tis the season for giving. But what if you don't have much room in your budget this year to make a charitable donation? Here are five ways to make a difference without writing a check.

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 do your holiday shopping online this year, 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 150 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).

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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, Microsoft will match volunteer time at $17 an hour through its Volunteer Time Matching program. Other companies require employees to volunteer a certain number of hours before they'll make a donation. So check with your company's human resources department to find out whether it has a such a 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. Have an old cell phone you no longer use? You can donate it to ReCellular, which recycles phones and gives a portion of the resale proceeds to charities. Find a donation center in your area. Reconnect 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.

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Cameron Huddleston
Former Online Editor, Kiplinger.com

Award-winning journalist, speaker, family finance expert, and author of Mom and Dad, We Need to Talk.

Cameron Huddleston wrote the daily "Kip Tips" column for Kiplinger.com. She joined Kiplinger in 2001 after graduating from American University with an MA in economic journalism.