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Give thanks, and give in these 5 other ways that can truly make a difference

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It’s the season in which we take some time to consider everything we’re thankful for. Most of us have a ton to be thankful for, including supportive friends and family, financial stability, health, and a profession full of great opportunities. This often prompts thoughts about charitable giving and helping others who are less fortunate than us or have unmet needs.

In the eyes of the IRS, charitable giving has a fairly narrow definition. But, when thinking personally about ways to “give back,” it can be considered quite broadly.

A donation doesn’t need a check written out to a nonprofit.

Here are five ways you can give altruistically to help others.

And only one of them involves donating money.

Money and charitable giving

Monetary giving is generally the easiest, quickest way to give. It also results in tax savings. Even when donating money, there are many ways to go about it.

One-off gifts to an organization you care about. A cash donation is a no-frills way to contribute to a cause. Always try to get a receipt for tax purposes. In many cases, if the organization is a non-profit, your donation is tax-deductible.

Recurring monetary giving. You can commit to making recurrent monetary donations to an organization. This is helpful for the organization for long-term planning and can be associated with less administrative burden. For the donor, it often means more loyalty, more engagement, and higher donations over time. This type of giving can also include sponsoring a child through a program such as Children International, which adds a personal element.

Planned giving during life. Planned giving can be in the form of charitable gift annuities, donor-advised funds, and other types of gifts. Most individuals desiring this type of giving will want the assistance of a financial advisor to review the specific options and logistics.

Planned giving after death. Having a plan for giving once you die is vital to ensure that what you want to happen with your money actually happens.

Give your time and expertise

You don’t need money to make an altruistic gift. There are a lot of ways to give your time and expertise to help an organization or a cause that is meaningful to you.

Skills-based volunteering. Physicians are highly educated and have skills that the vast majority of the population doesn’t have. There are many opportunities for highly-skilled volunteering, including medical missions trips and non-clinical volunteering for medical organizations. It can also include administrative or fundraising work that requires a certain skill set or knowledge base.

General volunteering. There is no requirement to use your medical skills while volunteering – even if you’re a physician. Volunteer with your family at a soup kitchen, food bank, environment conservation organization, or any other non-profit with a mission that resonates with you.

Earlier this year, I donated my eggs to a close friend who was struggling with infertility. It was a great experience. Now she’s pregnant. All it required of me was a bit of time and willingness to take on some medical risk.

Here are several ways to donate your own body parts, loosely organized by least to most risky and invasive.

Make your wishes known regarding organ donation. Even if you’re eligible for organ donation when you die, your organs might not be harvested if not everyone is in agreement about whether you actually wanted to be an organ donor. Ensure that the organ donor designation is on your driver’s license, that your close family is aware of your wishes, and that any written health care directives include this information.

Donate your hair. Hair is easy to donate and it grows back. You can make a difference in the life of someone undergoing cancer treatment or with another condition resulting in hair loss.

Join a bone marrow registry. Getting into a bone marrow registry, such as Be the Match, is as easy as running a cotton swab across your cheek and mailing it in.

Give blood. Giving blood at a donation center or a blood drive is quick and easy. You usually get cookies and – if you’re lucky – chocolate milk when you’re done. Giving plasma is also an option for some people, and you’ll usually be compensated for your time.

Donate sperm or eggs. You can do only one or the other, of course, depending on your sex. Sperm donation is simple. Egg donation requires taking hormones, getting ultrasounds, and undergoing an invasive procedure. But, based on my experience, it’s totally worth it.

Donate a kidney. This one is a serious undertaking. But it can also have a huge impact. A healthy, living donor can set off a kidney chain that results in dozens of other kidney transplants. Health outcomes associated with healthy donors are excellent.

Give material items to people who need them

Being short on money and time doesn’t mean you have nothing to donate. Material donations are another impactful way to give.

Give belongings. Most of us have material items that we no longer want or need, but that would really improve someone else’s life. Take a couple of hours to go through your closets and find items to donate. As with monetary donations, this can come with a tax write-off.

Donate new items. Donate non-perishable food to a food bank. Or “adopt” a family for the holidays and enjoy picking out gifts for kids who otherwise wouldn’t receive much.

Charitable giving of intangible assets

Giving intangible assets doesn’t require giving either money or belongings. You essentially lose nothing and it hardly takes up any of your time. The ideas below are just a few options of how you can donate intangibles:

Do business with organizations that donate to good causes. Some businesses commit to giving based on the number of sales their customers bring in. For example, using smile.amazon.com instead of the standard amazon.com means that 0.5% of the purchase price of products you buy is donated to the charitable organization of your choice by the AmazonSmile Foundation.

Give points and PTO. Some airlines, hotels, and other companies with loyalty programs allow customers to donate points. Your employer may allow you to donate paid time off to a co-worker who needs to take time off for health or family reasons.

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