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Want To Help Others During Coronavirus? How to Choose Where To Donate

Rebecca Jones  |  May 5, 2020

There are plenty of people in need right now, and you want to help, but how can you? Here's how your coronavirus donation can go the furthest.

With a staggering 30 million Americans now unemployed, and 70,000 deaths in the U.S. due to the coronavirus pandemic, we could all use a little hope and inspiration right about now. Although many of the headlines are bleak, all across America there are people giving to others and showing kindness in ways that makes our hearts smile: There are coffee shop owners offering free java to healthcare workers headed to the frontlines, photographers taking “front porch portraits” of families, and donating proceeds to their local food bank, and countless reports of restaurateurs sending free meals to paramedics and law enforcement. And we want to do our part to help our fellow man (and woman!) too. But how do you know where to give and where to start? Should you go local or go big? Here’s how to do the most good with whatever coronavirus donation what you have to offer. 

Decide Where to Give, And Just Give 

There’s truly no right answer when it comes to choosing a national vs. local charity for your coronavirus donation. Both are doing amazing work right now. While local food banks are getting food into the hands of families facing hardship due to unemployment, national nonprofits are advocating for workers’ rights. “What is important is that you choose a charity that matters to you and move forward and give if you are able,” says Stacy Palmer, editor of The Chronicle of Philanthropy. Don’t forget that some nonprofits that might not immediately come to mind in the middle of a pandemic (like art museums and performing arts centers, for example) are being hit especially hard right now, too. “No, they aren’t first responders, but they also aren’t able to keep the doors open right now or have people shop their gift shops,” Palmer says. If you have plenty to give, consider giving to several organizations that matter to you. And if you have a smaller amount to give, then one nice donation to your favorite nonprofit can make a huge impact, she says. The important thing is that you give when you can. 

Giving Locally

Over the last few weeks, food banks nationwide have seen an exponential increase in those needing assistance. “When it comes to helping folks out in this time of crisis, I’m a firm believer in staying local,” says Matt Schulz, Chief Credit Analyst with Lending Tree. A $50 donation to your local food bank can feed a large number of folks in your town, he says. And if you’re keeping it local, don’t forget that purchasing from your town’s local bookstore, restaurants, and boutiques supports your community in a major way. “That takeout order from your favorite family-owned restaurant may not cost much, but that money can be a huge deal to its owners,” he says. 

Giving Directly to a Friend or Family Member

You likely know someone personally who could benefit from a coronavirus donation during this time. “When it comes to giving to others, it should put others at ease,” says Elaine Swann, etiquette expert and Founder of Swann School of Protocol. “It’s best to just move forward and give to that person without discussing it or making it an uneasy moment,” she says. Consider sending groceries over for a neighbor, or having a meal sent over to an older loved one. You can even hop onto your banking app and send people money directly through Zelle or Venmo, she says. “Type a message in the notes section and say ‘Just thinking of you today,’” says Swann. And when you do give, make sure you give with a pure heart, not expecting anything in return. Certainly do not share with others or on social media what you have done for someone else in private. Addressing a need and giving is important, but also be mindful about preserving others’ dignity. 

Making National and International Coronavirus Donations

If you choose to make a charitable contribution, you’ll want to ensure that your money is making the most impact. Start with a search on Charity Navigator, which evaluates all of the biggest nonprofits in the U.S., and analyzes how much of their income goes toward programs vs. administrative costs.

If you’re looking to donate outside of the U.S., then GiveWell is a great option for research and matching with the perfect charity — each of their “top charities” that they profile have been vetted by their team of researchers. “We look for charities that save or improve lives the most per dollar donated,” says Catherine Hollander, senior research analyst at GiveWell. 

Keep Scams & Uncle Sam In Mind 

Unfortunately, in times of disaster, there are always people who try to take advantage of others. Never donate to a charity you haven’t vetted first, and never give out your credit card number to someone who calls you on the phone and asks for a donation.  Local bureaus and governments are putting out scam warnings as things come up, so keep an eye out for those. 

Also, remember that if you want to get REALLY generous, there are tax implications if you give more than $15,000 in a year to a person or organization that’s not an official 501c3 nonprofit organization or charity. And only if your coronavirus donation goes to an official charity can you get a tax deduction. Unfortunately, you won’t get a tax write-off for helping out a friend, neighbor, or family member, even though it’s still a good and noble cause. 

If You Can’t Make a Coronavirus Donation Right Now… 

And if you can’t give right now—maybe you are concerned about your own job, or you need to save some money first — it’s okay to wait, Palmer says. “The need is going to be ongoing,” she says. “If you have a skill, like marketing or editing skills, nonprofits could use that skill right now,” she says. The United Way can help you find volunteer opportunities in your community, and VolunteerMatch lists virtual volunteer opportunities where you can volunteer online while maintaining social distancing measures. 

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