They are present in every community, the changemakers who organize fundraisers, donate resources, and roll up their sleeves to solve social problems in their own backyard. They put service over self. And without them, the organizations and nonprofit groups that deliver hope for a brighter future could not exist.
Here are five ways we can all give back to the communities we call home:
Join (or start) a community garden:
Got a green thumb? Many neighborhoods have community gardens — plots of land, either public or private, where residents grow fruits, vegetables, herbs, and flowers for the greater good.
The produce is often donated to local food banks, which helps combat food insecurity where you live, and volunteers are always welcome. In many cases, you can sign up to help for as little as an hour-long shift.
Need more reasons to support your community garden? They help fight climate change by reducing the distance food must travel and they improve community health through better nutrition, according to the Soil Science Society of America.
Become a youth sports coach
Sports play an important role in childhood development, keeping kids active and helping them learn the value of both teamwork and perseverance. Yet, many families in underprivileged communities can’t afford to participate. (Learn more: Cost of youth sports: Dollars and sense)
That’s where volunteers come in. Recreation departments across the country offer affordable youth sports leagues that help level the playing field in their communities, with help from volunteer coaches, equipment managers, and scorekeepers. Many, these days, require a background check and basic safety training.
By volunteering on the court or on the field, you’ll not only help promote the benefits of youth sports, but you’ll also help improve access as well. And, you’ll be a mentor to kids who need it most.
Donate your time
Giving back doesn’t have to cost a thing. The gift of time is precious indeed. People willing to participate in or help organize charity fundraisers (think Turkey Trot 5Ks for new computers at the middle school or restoration of the local park) transform their communities one good deed at a time. And they build social connections along the way. (Learn more: Philanthropy on the running circuit)
Animal lovers can contact their nearest shelter to volunteer. Nursing homes often welcome locals to come read to (or make birthday cards for) their elderly residents. Food pantries need helpers to stack and distribute goods, and many religious institutions, including churches and synagogues, have programs that deliver meals to homebound seniors.
"MassMutual's commitment to society doesn't end at the doors of our headquarters," noted Dennis Duquette, president of the MassMutual Foundation. "Our financial professionals and home office employees play a critical role in elevating communities across our country, providing crucial skills and intellectual capital to help build nonprofit capacity, volunteering, and leveraging the MassMutual Foundation matching programs that award nonprofits funding based on their own philanthropic endeavors."
Donate your talent
Others have specific skills they bring to the table:
- Tax accountants could do pro bono work for the nearest homeless shelter.
- Landscapers might manage the garden at the local community center.
- Marketing experts could help run the social media campaign for their town’s small business incubator.
- Math majors could tutor students in after-school programs.
- Financial professionals can also help educate local residents on how to achieve financial wellness.
- Those handy with tools can join a home restoration team for families in need through organizations such as Habitat for Humanity or Rebuilding Together.
Beyond a cash donation, there are multiple ways to give to the organizations in your community that effect change — and many can potentially lower your tax liability.
“For clients, we have found that there could be more tax-efficient ways to gift than a cash donation,” said Armando Sallavanti, a financial professional with MassMutual Greater Philadelphia.
One way is to donate appreciated stock or securities to a qualified charity, which enables you to deduct the fair market value of your financial donation.
“Let’s say you want to make a $10,000 donation,” said Sallavanti. “You invested $2,000 in Apple stock years ago, and it has increased in value to $10,000 today. If you were to sell those shares today, you would pay capital gains tax on your $8,000 gain at up to 20 percent depending on your tax rate.”
But if you gift the actual stock instead, he said, you do not need to pay taxes on your capital gains, you get a tax deduction equal to the full market value (up to certain limits) as long as the asset was owned at least a year, and the charity can then sell those shares tax free.
Other ways to financially support your favorite nonprofits involve setting up a charitable remainder trust (CRT), which creates a potential income stream for the donor or their beneficiaries but designates a qualified charity to receive any assets that remain upon the beneficiary’s death. Such trusts may enable donors to take an immediate tax deduction based on the present value of the future gift to charity, and defer payment of any capital gains tax for highly appreciated securities.
Charitable lead trusts (CLTs) are the exact opposite. The income generated by assets held within the trust are paid to a nonprofit organization for a fixed number of years or the lifetime of the donor. Any assets that remain when the trust expires go to family members or other beneficiaries. (Learn more: 7 situations where a trust might help)
If you are philanthropically inclined, you can also gift some of your tax refund to a qualified nonprofit for the win-win. The IRS generally lets you deduct contributions to public charities, colleges, and religious groups up to 50 percent of your adjusted gross income per year. Contributions to certain private foundations and other organizations are limited to 30 percent of AGI.1
And lastly, you can gift your life insurance policy. Gifting life insurance often enables the donor to make a larger gift — of the death benefit — than they could by gifting cash. (Learn more: Using life insurance for charity)
· The simplest approach is to designate a charity as the beneficiary of a permanent policy, such as whole life, which would enable you (the donor) to retain ownership of the policy and to its cash value during your lifetime. While there is no income tax deduction available, a full estate tax deduction can be obtained for the total proceeds payable to a qualified charitable organization.
· If you no longer need your permanent life insurance policy, you can instead transfer the policy and change the ownership and beneficiary to the charity. You may be entitled to an income tax deduction in the year of the transfer.
· Or, if you do not already own a life insurance policy, you might consider buying an entirely new policy and designating the charity as owner and beneficiary, providing you have a history of giving with the charity.
As with all financial decisions that may affect your taxable estate, it is critical to seek guidance from a trusted financial professional.
We can all be changemakers where we live, work, and play. By volunteering your time or donating resources, you can help make a difference to those in need. And, let’s be honest, it just feels good.
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1 Internal Revenue Service, “Charitable Contribution Deductions,” August 25, 2022.