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What is a charity donation?

Get information on charity donations and what to donate.

Cash donations are often the most helpful to charities. [©Jupiter Images, 2010]
©Jupiter Images, 2010
Cash donations are often the most helpful to charities.

Charity donations can satisfy the soul and boost one's tax deductions, but careful planning is required before donating. Donors must avoid untrustworthy organizations, and they must take steps to ensure their donations are used in a manner that satisfies their goals. Find out exactly where your money goes and how it helps those in need.

Charitable Donation Guidelines

Before making charitable donations, it's important to gather some basic details about your chosen organization's policies. To find out what to ask a charity before donating, consult the Donor's Bill of Rights, a list of what the Association of Fundraising Professionals asserts donors are entitled to receive or expect from their selected charities. Most importantly, ask what percentage of your donation goes to the cause you're trying to help, as this can range from 100 percent to less than 10 percent. You should be able to find out by checking the charity's Web site or contacting a representative of the charity. Another invaluable service is Charity Navigator. This site allows users to search charities and review a detailed list of their operation, including a mission statement, expenses, revenue and an efficiency rating.

Salvation Army Donations

On the Salvation Army's donation Web site, you can enter your ZIP code for a list of donation centers in your area. Salvation Army donations are accepted at thousands of locations throughout the United States, so in most cases you can likely find one within driving distance. You can also donate money to the Salvation Army on their Web site using a credit card.

Automobile Donations

Thousands of charities accept car donations, so it's sometimes smarter to donate through an independent vehicle donation program that will pass along the proceeds of your donation to the charity of your choice. Cars donated to charities aren't used as vehicles; they're sold for profit, so look for the service that will return the most money to your charity with the least hassle for you. One of the most popular is V-DAC, Vehicle Donation to Any Charity. More than 2,500 organizations are registered with V-DAC for easy car donation. You can also simply request donation information directly from your preferred charity. Some organizations, if local to you, will pick up the car. Also, donating locally saves transportation costs and the environment.

Goodwill Donation Centers

Goodwill Industries International accepts almost anything that falls under the category of "household items," including clothing, small appliances, books and furniture. They do not, however, accept large appliances, food, computers or baby furnishings due to their higher cost of disposal and because of government regulations on these items. A comprehensive list of what's acceptable to donate can be found on Goodwill's Web site, but the most useful donation is always money. Most proceeds from the sale of goods at Goodwill donation centers go toward job training for people in need, and cash donation gives the organization the biggest boost.

Boat Donations

Though many charities and donation services accept boat donations, options are somewhat limited since transporting, storing and selling boats can be quite different than doing so with cars or trucks. Prospective donors should contact the local offices of their preferred charity to see if the charity is equipped to handle boat donations.

Many vehicle donation programs also accept boats, though this may not always be clearly advertised. V-DAC, for example, accepts boats but does not solicit them as openly as it does cars. Boat donors may instead be better served by organizations with a major focus on watercraft donations, like Boats With Causes or Boats 4 Causes, a division of Cars 4 Causes. Equipped for the unique challenges of boat donations, companies like these usually offer conveniences like free pickup seven days a week.

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