Donation

As you mull over the best ways to give back during the holidays, keep in mind that cash isn't the only currency at your disposal: You can also give of your time.

For some, the choice is easy: You either feel like you have time to give, or it is easier to part with your cash. Many people do both. But for those struggling to decide, it helps to get a sense of what the charity might be able to accomplish with your cash donation, says Jill Gonzalez, a spokeswoman for WalletHub, which released a calculator to help people decide. You can compare that to what you might be able to contribute with your time and expertise, she says.

The tool asks people to enter how many hours they want to volunteer each week and based on their earnings, the calculator estimates what a variety of charities would be able to accomplish if the person instead donated what they would make at work in the same time.

Take a person earning $50,000 who is thinking about volunteering one hour a week. That would amount to 52 hours of volunteer work in a year or a donation amounting to about $1,250. With that cash, UNICEF could vaccinate 3,810 children against the measles. Or the National Wildlife Federation could plant 125 trees. Or Care could buy eight laptops for children in need, according to the site.

That all sounds hard to beat. But depending on their expertise and available time, people might feel like they would accomplish more for a charity by volunteering, Gonzalez says. For instance, someone with a career in information technology might provide more value to an organization by setting up the computer network at one of their offices than they would by providing the cash to buy laptops, she adds.

Not all charities are represented in the WalletHub tool, but people can use it to get a sense of what a similar organization might be able to accomplish, Gonzalez says. Many charities offer information on their websites about what projects costs and what they can do with different contributions.

Also, people donating cash may receive tax benefits, depending on how much they're giving and how they make the contribution.

Of course, charities still value manpower. Chances are your local food bank needs volunteers to help sort and distribute food just as badly as it needs cash for the turkeys and canned food. And volunteering offers a chance to see directly what an organization does and who is benefiting.

Volunteer opportunities may also be limited depending on the charity. At UNICEF, for instance, many projects are carried out by professionals who have been background checked and trained to provide care or deliver supplies in the affected countries, says Caryl Stern, chief executive of the U.S. Fund for UNICEF. But the organization still needs volunteers to write letters and to, say, sort and pack clothing for Syrian refugees.

The two forms of giving aren't independent. Giving time to an organization can lead people to give more of their money, Stern says. "People tend to want to give money to things they are engaged and involved in," she says.

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