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Athens News Matters: Charitable Giving - Volunteering vs. Donating

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As the holidays approach and tax season looms, requests for assistance from charitable organizations are on the rise. There’s more than one way to give to an organization, though.

Money may be precious, but in today’s overscheduled world, there’s another resource that may be even more valuable than your dollars - your time.

Whether you’ve got the spirit of the season, or are simply looking for a tax write-off, how do you know what is the best way to help a cause you care about? Is it better to help a charity by donating your time as a volunteer, or by opening your wallet?

Tony Mallon, a Clinical Associate Professor in the School of Social Work, and director of the Institute for Non-Profit Organizations, has researched that very question. He offers several tips for finding the best way to help organizations that help others.

First, consider where you are in your career, and what your finances will allow.

"If you’re a younger person just starting out in your career, and maybe you have not accumulated a large savings or your salary isn’t as high enough to donate a large amount of money, then you may feel as though volunteering is better. Or, on the other end, if you are someone who’s retired and on a fixed income and maybe is not working full time anymore, again, volunteering may be the best choice for you."

Another thing to consider is what skills you bring to the table, and whether they match with the mission of the organization.

So I think the key thing is to really find the organization whose mission matches with your interests, but then whose needs match with what you are most able to provide.

"I think it also depends on whether you feel as though your skillset is suited to volunteering, so again, if you are young and energetic and like sports for example, and would like to coach some youth sports, then that would be a great way to volunteer and give of your time, and again, if you are more experienced, and maybe you have legal experience, accounting experience, technology experience, a lot of non—profits can really benefit from that. So I think the key thing is to really find the organization whose mission matches with your interests, but then whose needs match with what you are most able to provide. Do I have the skillset as a volunteer that is of need to the organization, and if I don’t, but I still want to contribute, and the mission aligns with my values and my goals, then donating money might be better."

If you’re not sure whether or not you want to donate your money to a charity, and you have the time and the skills, volunteering can be a great way to learn more about what the organization does.

"Volunteering can be a good way to get to know the organization: who they serve, what their services are, what their mission is, and so that can actually be a way to determine if it’s an organization you would like to donate money to down the road."

But before you pick up the phone to arrange your first volunteering session, think carefully about what the organization does. The structure of the organization and its mission can give you clues about whether donations of money or time are more appropriate.

"Some organizations solicit donations to provide scholarships for young people. They would be ones that probably wouldn’t need a lot of volunteers but they would definitely need people to donate money, because that’s the basis of what they’re doing."

Finally, no matter how much you may support a particular non-profit, you’ve got to ask yourself whether volunteering for it would be enjoyable, and if you would have the time for it.

"You know, you want to think about what you’re going to enjoy doing. I know I have friends who volunteer for the Humane Society, and they do the animal socialization because they simply enjoy being with animals, and you know, petting the cats, and feeding the dogs and taking care of them, and other people either don’t have the time for that or don’t necessarily enjoy that, but they still want to support animal wellbeing, so they’ll make a donation."

And both are appreciated.

"I don’t think you need to think of this as mutually exclusive or one is necessarily better than the other. It’s really, what’s the best fit for you, and then what is most in need for an organization. And really, that’s the other thing about giving money is I don’t think people should ever feel as though it’s too small. If you have $5, a dollar, if you have $1000 or $10,000, those are resources that a nonprofit will use to fulfill its mission."

So, whether you decide to support a charitable organization with your time or your money, there are plenty of organizations out there that need your support. And what better time than the season of giving to share your gifts with them?

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