In a Year Full of Challenges, How Can We Give Back?

December 10, 2020 Updated: December 15, 2020

Dear Readers: As I recently wrote, this holiday season is going to be different for a lot of people in terms of celebrations and gift-giving, but there’s one thing I fervently hope won’t get lost in our new reality: the importance of charitable giving. Charitable organizations of all types and sizes are constantly in need of support. And this year, with all the incredible challenges of 2020, the need is greater than ever.

You hear stories from around the country about food banks struggling to keep up with demand, about people who never had to seek help before suddenly needing assistance to pay for not only food but also basics such as rent and utilities. I think it’s significant that the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the World Food Programme.

All this brings home the fact that many of the things we may have taken for granted in the past now present daily struggles for a lot of people—often in our own communities, maybe in our own families. In light of today’s unusual circumstances, charitable giving becomes more than a financial decision; it becomes a personal commitment. So, what can we all do?

Start Close to Home

Chances are there’s a food bank in your area, or a homeless shelter or senior services center that could use your help. Whether it’s a donation of dollars, goods, services, or a few volunteer hours, there’s a special personal connection when you give back to your own community. I recently heard of an organization of entertainers who set up live music every weekend at a local food distribution center. What a wonderful way to personally welcome those in need and support those who are volunteering.

Choose Organizations That Extend Your Reach

There are many well-established organizations that serve the greater community all year ’round and would welcome extra contributions during the holidays. For instance, Meals on Wheels America delivers meals to more than 2.4 million seniors annually and provides other nutritional and social support—as well as a wonderful opportunity for volunteers to personally contribute their time and connect one-on-one.

DonorsChoose, which supports teachers across the country with all kinds of projects, is currently focused on helping enhance at-home learning. See if there’s a teacher in your community who could use your help at donorschoose.org.

Of course, Boys & Girls Clubs of America, which offers teen money management programs, among many other programs, has had a special place in my heart for many years. With local clubs in thousands of communities, you may find one near you that you can personally support.

Include Your Kids

While I always encourage parents to get their kids involved in giving at a young age, this year can be even more meaningful, as many families are struggling more than usual. Your kids might even be seeing this firsthand in their schools and among their friends. Maybe they know of a family that could use a helping hand. Talk to them about the causes you support and why. If they have money of their own, consider pooling family resources to contribute together. And let them know that there’s no shame in needing help—and tremendous reward in giving it.

Put Tax Advantages to Good Use

Tax advantages for giving are designed to help you as you help others, so why not put them to good use? From the above-the-line charitable contribution deduction up to $300 if you claim the standard deduction in 2020 to the expanded limits on charitable contributions for those who itemize, the CARES Act provides an added incentive to be generous this year.

Opening a donor-advised fund, which allows you to personally direct your contributions to causes you care about, is another great way to combine your generosity with tax savings. In fact, what you save on taxes may allow you to give even more. You can even make it a family affair by deciding together which charities you’ll support.

Share Your Spirit as Well as Your Dollars

The spirit of the holidays can be contagious—and so can the spirit of giving. So, here’s an idea. However you choose to make a donation this year, why not share it on social media? Tell your friends what you’re doing and why. Share a link for your favorite cause. You may just start a giving trend that boosts your own charitable gift and might boost the spirits of all those you’ve encouraged to give.

Carrie Schwab-Pomerantz, a certified financial planner, is president of the Charles Schwab Foundation and author of “The Charles Schwab Guide to Finances After Fifty.”