Last-minute Gift Ideas, Charity Edition

By Sharon Naylor

February 15, 2017 5 min read

Searching for a gift in a pinch can be stressful. Perhaps you missed the online delivery cutoff, forgot an anniversary or accepted a last-minute invitation to a party. How do you pull a gift together at the last minute without spending a fortune or settling for something boring or impersonal? Skip the trip to the convenience store for a box of chocolate or a gift card. One gift idea is a charity donation in your recipient's name. Many charities have online gift-ordering options with printable cards and gift certificates. This way, you have a thoughtful gift and won't show up to the occasion empty-handed. With these helpful tips in mind, you can assemble a quality, feel-good gift in no time.

It's always best to choose a charity that you know reflects the recipient's personal beliefs and/or causes for which they care. If you know your friend adopted her beloved dog, for example, a donation to the local animal shelter might be much appreciated. For an environmental advocate, donate to the Arbor Day Foundation for a tree to be planted in the person's name. Does she coach her son's soccer team? Donate to the team's new uniform drive. If you are not sure what the gift recipient would appreciate most, take a look at his or her social media accounts. Photos, "likes" and posts could provide clues as to what causes he or she supports.

One of the keys to any charitable gift is making sure that the charity is legitimate and actually utilizes a high percentage of donations to produce results for the cause. Sites like Charity Navigator offer reports on different charities' quality of giving, helping you make an intelligent decision. Even if you are familiar with your recipient's favorite charity, checking the organization's performance can provide peace of mind.

Sandra Miniutti, vice president of marketing at Charity Navigator, says that people should check three things before donating:

"Examine the charity's finances. Financially healthy organizations -- those that are both financially efficient and sustainable -- have greater flexibility and freedom to pursue their charitable mission.

"Ensure the charity is accountable and transparent. Charities that are an open book and follow good governance practices are less likely to engage in unethical or irresponsible activities.

"Look for signs of effectiveness. The charity's ability to bring about long-lasting and meaningful change in the world is the key reason for their existence and for your donation, so make sure you find evidence of its impact."

Charitable donations are particularly notable gifts right now. "With the recent focus on the outcome of the U.S. presidential election," Miniutti says, "we saw an increase in donations to certain causes as people turned to charities to bring about the change in the world that they are most passionate about. Specifically, we've seen a greater interest in supporting women's causes and environmental groups. In addition, charities promoting civil liberties, immigration rights and LGBT rights have reported an increase in giving." If you know your recipient holds strong beliefs about a cause, a donation could be a show of solidarity, or simply that you know the person well and acknowledge the things he or she holds dear.

If you'd like to stay away from any politically charged or controversial charities, local shelters, libraries or animal adoption centers might be a great choice. To go one step further, recipients would most definitely appreciate being able to see their donation in action. "For my husband's birthday, I adopted a red panda at our local zoo in his name and revealed the gift by taking him to the zoo and pointing out the actual panda he was now keeping well-fed," says Nancy Sheehan of Morristown, New Jersey. "We'll now continue our new tradition by adopting animals at different zoos across the country for each gift-giving occasion."

Be sure to be informed of the tax rules on charitable donations. Miniutti explains: "The IRS accepts the following to substantiate a monetary gift: a canceled check, credit card statement, bank statement or a written acknowledgement from the charity (showing the charity's name, the date of the donation and the amount given). If you contribute $250 or more, then you must prove to the IRS that you (a) made the donation and (b) you didn't receive anything in return for that donation. Therefore, you'll need a receipt from the charity that includes the following information: the charity's name, the value of your gift, the date you made your donation and a statement verifying that you did not receive any goods or services in return for your gift."

Though last-minute gifts can feel (and come across as) rushed and random, a well-thought out charitable donation is a gift that keeps on giving.

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