Giving Back

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How to contribute to charity when cash flow is low

Charitable giving is a noble gesture that can potentially benefit scores of people. But many people intent on giving must find ways to budget their charitable contributions so such donations do not negatively affect their personal finances.

Although nonprofit organizations solicit donations throughout the year, never are such solicitations more prevalent than during the holiday season, when charities count on the spirit of generosity and good will that's synonymous with the season to raise money. However, the holidays can be a particularly trying time of year on an individual's or family's finances. Already strained budgets may be pinched even further as people shop for the holidays and/or travel to see family and friends.

But even though the holiday season can be tough on finances, men and women who budget their expenses can still find ways to donate to their favorite charities.

• Determine what you can afford. Although many people donate between 2 and 3 percent of their incomes to charity, don't let that serve as your guideline. Determine exactly what you can afford to give, and then make your donation. Don't feel pressured to stretch your budget because you feel your contribution is insignificant. Even charities admit every little bit helps.

• Divide charitable contributions into installments. If you're not able to make a lump sum donation, try donating in installments. Many donors find it's much easier to gather a few dollars here and there than to part with a large amount of money all at once. Find out if your favorite charity accepts smaller, incremental donations. Some may be capable of periodically charging a credit card at predetermined intervals you establish with your fundraising representative.

• Ask for donations in lieu of gifts. When the holiday season and your birthday rolls around, ask family and friends to donate to your favorite charity in lieu of buying you gifts. This allows you to contribute to your favorite cause even if you're financially incapable of making your own donation.

• Pool your resources. Get together with other like-minded individuals and contribute collectively. You may be able to donate more than you ever believed when other people contribute.

• Donate your time. If you simply cannot afford a financial donation, find out how you can donate your time instead. Your efforts as a volunteer may help your favorite charity reduce its administrative overhead, allowing them to devote more funds to their designated mission.