(Forbes) – Among the economic issues laid bare by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, food insecurity may be the most striking: Aerial photos of pick-up lines at food banks around the country show lines of cars that stretch for miles.
And as many relief programs are set to expire at the end of December, that demand is likely to increase. Access to food was already a major issue in the U.S. before the pandemic—more than 35 million people experienced food insecurity in 2019, according to food bank network Feeding America, a number that the U.S. Department of Agriculture expects to jump to about 54 million in 2020. This month, nearly 15% of households with children reported not having enough to eat, according to a U.S. Census Bureau survey.
If you want to contribute to organizations that work to alleviate hunger in the United States, there are a few factors to keep in mind to ensure that your donation is effective and impactful.
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Why It’s Better to Give Cash Than Canned Goods
When you think of donating to a food bank or other organization that works to alleviate hunger, you might automatically reach for the nonperishable goods. But your money can do more than a couple of boxes of shelf-stable items can.
Because food banks work with manufacturers and grocers, they can obtain food at far less than the cost you pay at the grocery store. Feeding America says that every dollar donated can help secure and distribute 12 pounds of food—that’s about 10 meals.
But it can feel strange to open your wallet instead of your pantry. Giving a physical food item is a tangible gift, whereas a cash or digital payment feels less personal, said Dr. Alex Melkumian, a psychologist and founder of the Financial Psychology Center. “We associate our memories of being fed with emotions of love and care and want to provide the same for others, especially during such a tough time,” he says.
That brings up another challenge this year: You might not be struggling to access food, but there’s a good chance you’ve had to rebalance your finances due to the economic effects of the pandemic. How can you make a difference when you’re anxious about getting by yourself?
Melkumian said that worrying that your gift—financial or otherwise—isn’t big enough can send you spiraling into feelings of shame and guilt that prevent you from taking action at all. “Perfection is the enemy of progress,” he said. “Your gift or donation doesn’t have to be big nor does it have to be financial.” Your time, support on social media, and even a smile can contribute to the spirit of giving we want to contribute to at this time of year, he said.
Here are ways you can make a difference, no matter your budget.
Plan a Monthly Donation
It feels natural to donate to your favorite charities at the end of the year, when you’re filled with holiday cheer. Just look at the success of Giving Tuesday: Nearly $2.5 billion was donated to various organizations in the United States this year, a 25% increase over last year.
And although nonprofits of all sizes are surely grateful for those donations, that dramatic influx of money one day a year can make it hard for nonprofits to plan their budgets. That’s why many organizations encourage recurring donations.
“Monthly and quarterly recurring gifts provide charities with a steady stream of revenue throughout the year,” writes Ashley Post at Charity Navigator. This allows charities to plan well for the months ahead because they know what they have to work with.”
You might be worried you don’t have room in your budget to donate regularly. But even small amounts can go a long way. A monthly $10 donation adds up to $120 over the course of a year. And it also makes it easier to fit giving in your own budget each month, instead of saving for a larger contribution.
Host a Virtual Food Drive
Like so many activities during the pandemic, hosting a food drive has gone virtual too. And with the power of social media, it’s easier than ever to pool together funds to help people in your community. Food banks like Feeding America offer virtual fundraising platforms, or you can set up a virtual drive through Facebook.
A virtual food drive can help you round up friends and family to make a more sizable donation than they would be able to individually.
Use Your Employer Match
No matter how modest your own donation may be, you might be able to multiply the donation to your favorite organization with an employer match.
About 75% of medium and large companies offer some sort of employee giving program, says Bryan de Lottinville, CEO of corporate giving platform Benevity. But only 10% of employees participate on average, leaving a lot of money on the table.
“Often, employees are not even aware that their employer has a program, or it applies to a narrow list of eligible charities, or more frequently, the process for accessing the matching funds is so clunky and cumbersome that many time-constrained employees don’t bother,” de Lottinville said.
But taking a little time to figure out your employer’s system could have a big impact. The most common match is one-to-one (so for every dollar you donate, your company will match with another dollar, typically up to a certain amount), de Lottinville said, he’s seeing more companies offer two, three, or even five-to-one matches.
If your company processes matching payments manually, there may be a minimum donation amount. But if it uses a software program that processes payments electronically, you can likely donate any amount, de Lottinville explained. “It could be as little as $5 that turns into $10—or more,” he said.
Take the New Tax Deduction
Nonprofit organizations have long noted the tax-deductible nature of your donation in order to encourage donations. But unless you itemize your deductions each year, you typically don’t see any tax savings in exchange for your generosity. That will change when you file your 2020 taxes in spring 2021. The CARES Act allows taxpayers to deduct up to $300 per year, even if you take the standard deduction. The catch is that only monetary donations count toward this deduction—donated goods do not. This new deduction won’t be much help to you right now, but it may provide a small benefit when it’s time to file your tax return.
Short on cash, but have a little time? Many organizations are in need of additional volunteers this year to fill in for those who can’t serve due to health concerns. But food banks are keeping social distancing in mind, and offering opportunities to work at contactless or drive-up pickup locations.
Some food-focused nonprofits have converted some of their volunteer positions to virtual ones—you can perform tasks like writing notes or making calls to thank donors from the comfort and safety of home.
It doesn’t take much time to make a difference. Meals on Wheels delivery routes are planned to take about an hour and a half, and you can commit to delivering just once a month if that’s all your schedule allows.
You may be able to make your volunteer hours go even further through an employer-sponsored plan, de Lottinville said. Some workplace programs reward volunteer hours with currency that can be donated to a cause of your choice.