Keeping the Spirit of Giving Alive When Budgets Are Tight

While many segments of the U.S. economy have been hard hit, none will feel the pain more than charities this holiday season, which are bracing for what is a very tight giving season.

From the Better Business Bureau of Chicago and Northen Illinois comes these five tips for keeping the spirit of giving alive when budgets are tight:

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. However, the truth is that broken toys are not welcomed by even the poorest children and families, and soiled or holey 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
More people are buying donated clothes at thrift stores. Buyers should note that not all thrift stores equally benefit the charities whose names are associated with them. For more information about giving to charity thrift shops, go to

Car Donations
Changes in tax rules 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. See the BBB Resource Library at for additional information.

Your Time
Donors can also volunteer their time this holiday season. The personal rewards can be great and can be as important to the charity as a cash contribution. Volunteering doesn't have to involve direct assistance to those in need (like ladling soup at a homeless shelter). Assisting with office work or other behind-the-scenes tasks can be just as helpful.

Your Voice
Many charity Web sites feature "advocate" as well as "donate" buttons. Those charities are telling donors that their advocacy can help advance policies and practices that will contribute to their missions. Charities can't promote political candidates but they can urge or lobby for public policies that further charitable causes. Donors may be asked to contact their representative in relation to certain legislation. Many charities also advise on how donors can further their programs through advocacy in local communities.

When in doubt, check it out. When an unfamiliar organization asks you for a donation, don't give without gathering details about the charity, the nature of its programs and its use of funds. Also contact the BBB Wise Giving Alliance or go to and click on the Charity section for a report on the charity.

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