When’s the last time you did something for the good of someone else?
According to recent federal studies, almost a third of people volunteer through a charitable organization each year. Charitable giving also topped $410 billion in the year 2017, an increase of 5.2% over the year before.
If you’ve yet to count yourself among those statistics, it may be high time — you might be surprised by how many benefits doing so can bring.
Why you should consider donating or volunteering
Here are just a few of the benefits of donating your resources to helping those in need.
It makes you feel good.
While you may know this from personal experience, the emotional benefits of volunteering have been scientifically documented, too. Studies have shown that volunteering has positive effects on depression, life satisfaction and overall well-being. Psychological research has shown that giving brings us more joy than receiving — and better yet, that happiness persists longer, too.
It might even be physically good for you.
Stress can have devastating effects on physical health, which means that serene glow you feel after helping others is more than mere brain candy: It may even help you enjoy better physical health. Case in point: One Carnegie Mellon study showed that older Americans (aged 51 to 91) who volunteered at least 200 hours per year were 40% less likely to develop hypertension.
If your volunteering efforts are physical in nature, like walking dogs at the local animal shelter or picking up trash, you can even add extra exercise to the list of personal benefits.
You can make new friends — or even network.
Volunteering is a great way to meet new people. Whether you live in an area known for being charitable or you’re trying to ramp up charitable giving in your own community, connecting with people who have a shared love for a cause can foster connections both personal and professional.
Charitable donations are tax-deductible.
So long as you itemize your taxes, qualified charitable donations are deductible, which could lead to a nice break come April. And hey, while your main motivation might be altruistic, it never hurts to get a little kickback.
It’s a way to give back to your community.
When you volunteer your time or donate your money to reputable organizations, you’re making a real difference in the world. You might be helping to clean up your neighborhood or putting food in the bellies of hungry locals, all of which lead to creating a better place for you and your loved ones to live.
5 ways to make your contributions count
Whether you’re offering your time, your money or both, here are a few ways to get your feet wet in the wide world of charity.
1. Save money specifically for the purpose of donating.
If you want to donate to a cause but constantly find your pockets empty, make it a point to set aside money specifically for that purpose. Build charitable donating into your budget, just like you do retirement or rainy day savings, so you’ll have the funds available next time an opportunity arises.
2. Find a way to volunteer that brings you joy — and makes the world a better place.
An ideal volunteering scenario makes you feel good while also making real change in your community. If your volunteering gig sounds like a chore, it might not be the right fit for you… and there are plenty of opportunities, so don’t be afraid to shop around!
3. Think globally.
The world is a big place, and there are a lot of people who stand to benefit from your donation. While it’s rewarding to keep your resources in your community, it also feels good and helps others when you donate to a cause further afield or contribute to an emergency fund after a natural disaster.
4. Consider both small and large organizations.
Wondering where your contribution goes the farthest? The answer seems to be “It depends.” For example, large global organizations like the American Red Cross or the Salvation Army may have better wherewithal to disburse major aid after natural disasters, but the local soup kitchen might have more day-to-day need.
Even a neighbor’s GoFundMe campaign may be a worthy cause, and the platform also hosts certified charity campaigns for qualified organizations and nonprofits. Keep in mind, however, that contributions to standard crowdsourcing campaigns are considered personal gifts by the IRS, and therefore may not be tax deductible.
5. Do your research.
Before you shell over your hard-earned cash, you want to ensure the organization you’re donating to is legitimate. And while it’s hard to go wrong with major, reputable options like the ASPCA, there are plenty of smaller charities that are still worth your time.