Do you find that your priorities are shifting but you’re having a hard time pulling together enough money to make a substantial donation to charity? Given the current economic crunch, many families are struggling to deal with their own bills and it’s getting together than other to help your neighbor. You want to help, but it just seems harder than ever to donate to charitable causes.

Most charities don’t run their campaigns around this time of year for several reasons. A lot of people are too caught up with filing their income tax returns and finding that they don’t have as much money as they would like to have. Further still, some people are still dealing with leftover holiday bills. Even so, you can still give… and you want to maximize the impact of your gift.

Donating Supplies and Goods

At some grocery stores, you’ll see a bin where you can donate canned food to the local food bank. At some toy stores, you may find a bin where you can donate toys to a local children’s charity. While these are perfectly suitable ways to give back to the community, they may not be the most effective in terms of maximum value on your dollar.

That’s because charities can typically do more on a per-dollar basis than you can. You may donate a shopping cart filled with $100 worth of food to Union Gospel Mission, but UGM may be able to buy the same amount of food for half the price. In this way, it makes more sense for you to donate $100 in cash, because the charity is able to buy more food for the same money.

The exception here would be when you are donating something that may be tossed in the trash otherwise. There are many places where you can donate old clothes and household items to goodwill, for example. I’ve also heard of people donating furniture and other equipment when they are moving across the country. It’s cheaper to give it away than it is to ship that furniture to a new home.

Donating Time and Services

If you don’t have the extra money to spare, you may figure that you have nothing to give to your local charity. Nothing could be further from the truth. Many charities experience extreme labour shortages, so one of the best ways for you to give is to donate your time in the form of volunteer work. Sometimes, it could be something as simple as manual labour, like cleaning up the yard. Other times, they may be able to capitalize on your expertise and experience. Do you have unique skills to offer that may otherwise cost the charity a lot of money? Accounting? Marketing? Graphic design?

You’ll have to factor in the costs of your time and your money, however, because again, it could be more cost-effective for you to donate money rather than your time. Instead of spending eight hours volunteering your time to paint a new house, you could spend those eight hours earning more money that can then be donated. If that earned money is more than how much it would cost the charity to hire someone to do the painting, then it makes more sense to donate money.

Donating Cold Hard Cash

Personally, I don’t think you should over-think it. The main thing to keep in mind is that we need to give back to the community in some form or another, whether it be through the donation of supplies, the volunteering of your time, or the giving of money. Donating money is usually the most painless route to take for me, because as a freelancer, I can always seek out additional work to make up the difference in cashflow.

Do you give to charity? What is your favorite organization and what do you give?