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Special section Giving the gift of charity

Add extra power with these strategies for charitable donations.

Give your charitable donation extra power

If your mailbox seems especially full these days with requests for donations to the local homeless shelter, environmental causes and food banks, you're not dreaming. Many charities flood the mail with their year-end holiday pitches for your charity dollars.

If you're like most Americans, you'll probably pull out your checkbook and send along some money. Every year, nearly 90 percent of households contribute to at least one of more than a million charitable organizations in the country, whether it's a church, school or nonprofit organization. The average annual household contributions totals $1,610.

If you're going to give up some of your cash to charities, you'd probably like to be assured that your donation makes a difference. Whether you give $10 or $10,000, there are ways to increase the impact of your gift -- and you don't have to spend a penny to do it.

Ways to increase the impact of your gift:

Leverage your donation with a matching gift
Many large companies -- and increasingly, smaller businesses -- will match your donation. "Employees give a certain amount of money, and the company matches it, dollar for dollar," says Gregory D'Angelo, vice president and charitable trust officer of the Univest Foundation in Souderton, Pa. So the $50 donation you send to your alma mater could potentially become a $100 donation at no extra cost to you.

Some companies will match at a 2-to-1 or even 3-to-1 ratio, though they might set annual contribution limits. Check with your human resources department to find out what is available.

Buy for your cause.
If you're someone who likes to buy online, Web sites, such as iGive.com, DonationTree.com, BuyforCharity.com and GreaterGood.com, can help you increase your giving. These Web sites partner with merchants who agree to send a percentage of the price of the product -- from less than 1 percent to more than 25 percent -- to a cause you select.

Robert Grosshandler, founder and CEO of Evanston, Ill.-based iGive.com, says that this incremental giving can have a big impact: Average online shoppers can expect $20 to $40 to go to their favorite charity each year, just for buying the things that they would buy anyway. Heavy online shoppers might end up giving hundreds of dollars a year. This year alone, Grosshandler expects iGive members to be responsible for some $500,000 in charitable giving.

"It's a true win-win-win," says Grosshandler. "Nonprofits get much-needed additional funding at no cost to them. People get to help organizations they care about, no matter what the size of the organization. And stores get to help their customers support the cause the customer cares about."

-- Updated: Dec. 3, 2007
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