Give Painlessly: Tips for Being Charitable on a Recession Budget

The holidays are a time to give, but with unemployment still too high and wages stagnating, it's looking like a tough year for charities. In a recent study, almost 70% of respondents said they will donate less money in 2011 than in 2010, and experts estimate that it may be years before charity revenues return to their pre-recession levels.

But just because money is tight doesn't mean you have to give up on giving: Several new programs and companies are making it possible to be generous without opening your wallet. In fact, some charities may even help you save money while you're giving it to others.

For example, helps its customers dispose of old cell phones and electronic gadgets safely, while also giving money to their favorite charities. Rather than tossing out their older tech tools, users can simply send them to Gazelle -- which will resell or recycle them -- and indicate which charity should get the proceeds.

Other options make it easier to combine gift shopping and charitable giving., a shopping portal that connects users to more than 2,500 stores, donates a small portion of each transaction to a charity or school. Users can choose from a list of over 103,000 charities and schools, and can find out exactly how much money each of their transactions generates. For example, Kindle Fire e-readers on GoodShop are selling for $199, the same price that Amazon (AMZN) is charging. But by buying the Fire on GoodShop, users can give 1.5% -- about $3 -- to their favorite charity.

While the 1.5% Kindle Fire donation is somewhat helpful, it's less than half the average donation percentage that the site generates. CEO Scott Garell notes that GoodShop can get retailers to offer these deals because it brings them sellers: "A retailer, like Target, gives us a commission because we're giving them a new customer that they otherwise wouldn't have had. We pass on the commission to the charity, minus a small administrative fee." In the case of the Kindle Fire, for example, the retailers offering the donation are RadioShack (RSH) and Office Depot (ODP) -- stores that rank below Amazon when it comes to top choices for Kindle buyers.

In a similar vein, the company has also launched a dining site, GoodDining, where users can donate part of their restaurant checks to their preferred charities. Users register their credit cards, then eat at any of the company's network of 10,000 restaurants. When they pay, 6% of their dinner check will be funneled to their favorite charity.

For GoodShop, GoodDining and GoodSearch -- their online search program -- the goal is to make giving as easy as possible. "We want to give people the power to change the world through everyday actions," Garell says. On the other end, recipients get access to a much larger community of givers.

"There are no opportunity costs with Good," notes Nick Hutchinson, chief development officer of Juma Ventures, a charitable organization dedicated to helping underprivileged young people get college educations, and one of GoodSearch's partners. "They put us in touch with people and funds that we wouldn't have gotten otherwise."

While the individual donations generated through Good and Gazelle may be small, they add up: Hutchinson notes that, in the seven months Juma has been working with Good, it has received several thousand dollars through the relationship.

For the rest of us, these new services can painlessly transform some of our ordinary holiday expenses into donations that will make someone else's holiday a little bit merrier.

Bruce Watson is a senior features writer for DailyFinance. You can reach him by e-mail at, or follow him on Twitter at @bruce1971.

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December 13 2011 at 11:10 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

i gave over 14,000$ to st judes over a ten year period and for that some cops who call themselves angels hurt my family took our house and job andd lied to us and then laughed <> yes united states police officers hired by robb thompson , a tiney park , illinios pastor ( baptist).......TALK ABOUT EVIL ON STERIODS

December 13 2011 at 11:09 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I give TickleMe Plant seeds to my family and friends. The seeds cost only 30cents each (15 in a package) I tape them into my holiday cards. TickleMe Plants are the only plants that will close their leaves and lower their branches when tickled. You can buy them on a shoe string and part of your purchase goes to saving the rain forest. Just search TickleMe Plant to see a live video of the plant in action and to get your own seeds or kits to gift or grow your own.

December 12 2011 at 6:26 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I am charitable. I give in the form of taxes, which goes to support Welfare, Food Stamps, Housing Allowances, Free Healthcare, and now in higher education for illegal immigrants who have never contributed to the system and are taking financial aid away from the children of those who have contributed for years. We make too much to qualify for these programs, yet, don't live as well as the many taking advantage of these programs. The government shouldn't be running these programs if they can't run them correctly. I am praying for a change in 2012.

December 12 2011 at 3:46 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

In our area the organization Hope for Housing has partnered with several grocery store chains to buy grocery gift cards in bulk at a discount of about 5%. They then sell them at face value to individuals and HFH keeps the difference. We spend about $100 a week, so over the course of a year we are contributing about $250. to help the homeless at no additional cost to us. There is no way we could give any where near that much otherwise.

December 12 2011 at 3:38 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I buy all my presents the day after christmas at the dollar store, thats when their on sale!

December 12 2011 at 2:51 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

"How to Give on a Shoestring Budget" How? Give shoestrings!

December 12 2011 at 2:13 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I used to be quite generous - until one year I actually donated time and worked at one of these centers. I've never been so disgusted. All the filthy welfare scum riding in on $5000.00 rims, sporting $300 shoes, popping gum, all the while babbling something that sounded vaguely like English into a cell phone, punctuated by, "I know right" every five seconds. Then these dirty animals would demand a certain item, you get that, demand an item. Demand! But what got me the most was how some of this dirty vermin turned their noses up at the refurbished bicycles that this one fellow had worked on all year. Re-painted, new seats, the works. "Yo dem bike-esses don't be new, dey be use-esses, I ain't give my chaps no use sheeet". That did it for me, not another dime, never again.

December 12 2011 at 1:40 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

In past years I have given generously to the Salvation Army Bell Ringers. This year my oldest son is unemployed and I'm trying to help him keep his head above water instead of making donations. Add on to that the fact that my oldest can't afford presents for the family, in order to keep him from feeling bad we have all cut back on our present exchange. Because I can't be as generous as I have been in the past I don't feel like it's much of a Christmas. I wish I could do as one post said and donate blood, but I'm taking so many different medications they don't want me. I would like to thank all of our politicians and others who have created this economy and wish them a Merry Christmas and hope their stockings are full of coal.

December 11 2011 at 10:17 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Want to donate during holidays? How about donating blood? True, that's not exactly painless, but it won't mess up your taxes and it really is a selfless, charitable act.

December 11 2011 at 8:20 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply