Give what you don’t need to those who need it most.

RealSimple.com
Peter LaMastro

Computer

  • Check with your local Goodwill Industries or Salvation Army for its donation guidelines. Also try local schools, after-school programs, and homeless shelters for children. 
  • Look for nonprofit organizations that specialize in redistributing technology, such as the National Cristina Foundation (cristina.org), which places refurbished computers in educational and nonprofit organizations for people with special needs, students at risk, and the economically disadvantaged; the Computer Recycling Center and Computers & Education (crc.org), which provides refurbished computers to public schools and community nonprofits; and the World Computer Exchange (worldcomputerexchange.org), which gives donated techno-goods to kids in developing countries. 

Large Appliances

  • Goodwill Industries, the Salvation Army, and other charities accept small appliances (toasters, mixers) in working condition. Policies on accepting large appliances (washers, dryers) vary by location. Check with your local branches. 
  • Inquire with local nonprofits that run group homes about large-appliance donations. 
  • The donation site Excess Access (excessaccess.com) makes do-gooding easy. After you list all of your available items―furniture, books, appliances, just about anything―the computers at Excess Access check the wish lists of participating nonprofits and notify the nearby charities of any matches. You then work directly with the charity to make arrangements (all Excess Access nonprofits are responsible for pickups) and the deal is done, complete with documentation so you can claim a tax deduction.

Cars

  • The National Kidney Foundation runs a program called Kidney Cars (kidneycars.org), which picks up your old auto, sells it for you, and then puts 67 percent of the net proceeds toward NKF programs, such as patient services, education, and kidney-disease research. Many familiar national charities have similar programs, including Habitat for Humanity's Cars for Homes (carsforhomes.org). (You'll also find dozens of online organizations offering to sell your used car and put the money toward a local or national charity of your choice, such as World Vision (worldvision.org). Most of these organizations are legitimate, but before handing over your car, do some research to confirm their nonprofit status, what your tax benefit will be, and that enough of the sale money will get to the charity. 
  • Call your local high school or vocational college to see if your jalopy can be used in its auto-repair classes.

Cell Phones

  • Through Verizon Wireless's HopeLine (verizonwireless.com/hopeline), old phones and accessories are collected at all Verizon Wireless stores, then refurbished and sold. The money raised is either donated to domestic-violence shelters and relief programs or used to buy airtime and phones for victims. 
  • Cell Phones for Soldiers (cellphonesforsoldiers.com) collects old phones, sells them to a cell phone recycler, and uses the proceeds to purchase calling cards for soldiers stationed far from home. Founded by a teen brother-sister duo they’ve provided troops with more than 90 million minutes of free talk time since 2004. You can search for one of 40,000 donation drop-off locations on their website, or mail phones directly to them. 
  • For more ideas, check with CTIA-The Wireless (recyclewirelessphones.com). The site lists the recycling and donation policies of most cellular phone companies. 

Baby Items

  • Supplies for infants and children―from diapers (clean) to strollers―are highly sought after by charity-run thrift shops. Cribs and playpens should comply with all federal and voluntary safety standards. (See the Consumer Product Safety Commission's website, cpsc.gov). 

Eyeglasses

  • Lions Clubs International (lionsclubs.org) also run a recycling program that delivers glasses to those in need all over the world. The Lions work with OneSight, a foundation sponsored by Luxottica, the company that owns LensCrafters and other eye-care chains. So an easy way to donate is to drop off old specks at LensCrafters, Pearle Vision, Sears Optical, or Target Optical locations. 
  • New Eyes for the Needy (neweyesfortheneedy.org) has provided glasses to 7.5 million people throughout the world. The organization accepts metal frames in any condition, unbroken plastic-frame glasses, sunglasses, and hearing aids. It also accepts jewelry and giftware, which are sold to raise money for glasses. 

Other Ways to Give

  • Not everyone has the funds to make a monetary donation, but your time can be just as valuable to a charity or a community-service organization. Cook dinner for your local firefighters, sign up to work a shift at a soup kitchen, or help deliver meals to elderly shut-ins. 
  • Check if your employer offers a matching-fund program for philanthropic donations. You might be able to double the value of your check. 

Questions to Ask

Is the Charity Legitimate?

Do a background check on any charity at Charitynavigator.org, Charitywatch.org, or the Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance (bbb.org). Keep in mind that each site uses a different rating system. You'll also want to investigate how a charity spends its money. Find this out by contacting the organization and requesting an annual report and an IRS form 990. Also make sure it is registered with the IRS as a 501c(3) tax-exempt organization (go to irs.gov/eo, or call 877-829-5500). Only expenses for donations to such organizations―or to churches, nonprofit hospitals, schools, and some government entities―qualify for deductions.

What's Deductible?

  • Cars. Despite what you may hear from charities clamoring to get their hands on your junkmobile, you aren't always entitled to deduct the full blue-book value of your car. If it's in bad shape, it's worth less. (Go to Kelley Blue Book, at kbb.com, and click on "What's My Current Car Worth?" for an estimate.) Also, the IRS requires that you get an independent appraisal of the value of any item or collection of items (say, a painting or a set of silver) worth more than $5,000. (You can find an appraiser through the American Society of Appraisers, at appraisers.org.) 
  • Travel and meals. If you drive to and from volunteer work, you can deduct 14 cents a mile for the distance traveled, plus tolls and parking. If you travel by train, bus, or subway, you can deduct the cost of your fare. Sent by a charity on a do-gooding trip―say, to build houses for the needy in Appalachia? The cost of your meals and accommodations is deductible, provided you pay for them yourself. Even cell-phone calls made on the charity's behalf can be written off. Your statement serves as your receipt. Note: You can't deduct calls home just to say hi. 

How Used Is Used?

Once you start surfing around for places to donate clothes, appliances, and other items, you're going to see the words "gently used" quite a bit. What does that mean? Generally, items that are clean, in good condition, and presentable.

 

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