I’m always looking for ways to—borrowing a phrase from the environmentalists— improve my "giving footprint." In austere times, there comes a limit to how much in dollars and cents one can give and there’s certainly a limit in terms of time—but if one is creative there are many ways to enhance our commitment to serving the body of Christ by our prayers, our presence, our gifts and our service. Here’s a list of some of the more creative ways I’ve discovered.
(1) MyPoints.com. MyPoints is a website that—fair warning—sends solicitations for various goods and services available on the Internet. It’s a marketing website, pure and simple. Signing up WILL clog your inbox with things you ultimately may not want. BUT—and this is the important BUT—you rack up points just for visiting the advertised websites, and can get points for shopping online through the MyPoints portal. Accrue enough points and you can exchange them for gift cards that can, in turn, be donated to local charities for use. I’ve redeemed points for cards totaling over a thousand dollars over the past few years, and didn’t do anything online—except visit a few websites—that I would not do otherwise. The cards for which I redeemed my points (good for gas, food, Wal-Mart, Target) have gone to the local homeless shelter, the Hispanic ministry outreach and to seminarians. In my book, a few e-mails a day that can be quickly taken care of, then trashed, is a small price to pay for free cards worth real money that I can give to charities of my choice. MyPoints also gives points for referrals; if you have a group of friends—or if a parish wanted to undertake this as a way to support a particular project—this would be a good way to amplify results.
(2) GoodSearch.com Good Search/GoodShop/GoodDining is a search engine and portal for shopping and dining out that directs a portion of each sale and a certain amount per search to your designated charity. It’s now my search engine of choice. The number of charities you can support is limited by those which have applied for the privilege—but there are a number of Catholic ones. My money goes to the Priests of the Sacred Heart. If you are on the board of a charity, this might be a good site to register with. They’ve just announced a dining program—register your credit card with them and a portion of the money you spend at participating restaurants goes to your designated charity.
(3) iGive.com. Like GoodSearch, iGive donates a portion of sales to designated charities. It requires you to download a toolbar button and $10 will go to your designated charity just for downloading the button and keeping it until April 14, 2012. There are 1300 online retailers listed, and a good number of Catholic charities, so if you are an online shopper, this one might be a good choice. iGive also gives money for referrals.
(4) Downsize! Like most affluent Americans, I am overrun with stuff. Periodically I go through my closets, basement and garage and weed ruthlessly. Some stuff just needs throwing out, but some of it is great for St. Vincent de Paul or the local parish rummage sale.
(5) Corporate matching gifts. My employer has a matching program that matches my donation 1:1 or sometimes 2:1. Though they will not match donations to a purely religious institution, I’ve been able to multiply my donations to Catholic schools and colleges—and even to the Matthew Kelley Foundation.
(6) Gazelle.com Gazelle buys used electronics and phones for surprisingly good prices. If you aren’t in need of the money selling your old iphone/ipod/digital camera/electronic games liberates from Gazelle, give it to the charity of your choice. Gazelle will also send the money directly to designated charities.
(7) Donate services to a charity auction. If you are an awesome baker, donate a tray of custom pastries. If you’re better at main courses, offer to cater a dinner. If you are talented with your hands, donate something you’ve made. If you have a vacation home, offer a stay. Over the years, we’ve raised quite a bit of money for various groups by doing just that.
(8) Donate your time. Most charitable groups can find a way to use even a few extra volunteer hours. If you have more time than money or talent, call your favorite group and offer yourself. No better gift!
And of course--support all these with prayers. Lots and lots of prayers.
If you have other ideas, please! Let me know!