Giving Tuesday: How to maximize donations using credit cards

Cards can make charitable giving easy, even rewarding, but don't skip research

How to donate to your favorite charity this holiday season

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In 2017, we’ve witnessed almost too many disasters to catalog: Hurricanes wreaking havoc in the Dominican Republic, Florida, Puerto Rico and Texas; major earthquakes devastating Mexico; flooding and mudslides gutting communities in Bangladesh, Colombia and Sierra Leone; and wildfires burning through California, among others.

Many nonprofits are trying to help. For them, Thanksgiving and Giving Tuesday (Nov. 28) kick off the high season of philanthropy.

Last year, almost one-third of all donations were made in December, according to statistics from Charity Navigator, and $1 out of every $6 given during 2016 came in during the last three days of the year.

From matching programs to credit card rewards, here are a few tips to help make the most impact with donations to your favorite groups this holiday season:

1. Make your donation via your rewards cards.

“You can feel good about making a donation and earn a few points at the same time,” says Marc Bellanger, senior director of financial services for marketing film Merkle.

Credit card processing fees don’t vanish just because the recipient is a nonprofit. The charity pays that fee, which is about 3-plus percent of the donation, says Sara Nason, marketing manager for Charity Navigator.

“Most charities accept that, because they want to make it easy for donors to use credit cards,” says Bellanger.

Some charities will also give donors the option of covering the processing fees. So instead of making a $100 donation to your local food bank, you’d actually give $103.

From time to time, especially after a disaster, “Some credit card processing facilitators will waive the fees,” says Nason.

"You can feel good about making a donation and earn a few points at the same time."

2. Donate card rewards, points, miles.

While you might want to do the math to make sure you will get the best value out of your rewards points first, donating points is a great way to help your favorite charity without having to shell out actual dollars.

“A lot of issuers have portals that allow you to donate, which makes it easy,” says Bellanger.

American Express and Citi are a couple of examples.

Likewise, you can donate airline miles from many carriers through their sites, including Southwest and United.

Delta, for example, is matching donations to the American Red Cross for disaster relief up to a total of 10 million miles.

Unlike making a credit card donation, when you donate points, rewards or miles, the charity usually doesn’t have to pay a processing fee, Bellanger says.

3. Use a co-branded card that supports the cause of your choice.

Think of this as a rewards card that also rewards your favorite charity.

Co-branded credit cards give a percentage of the purchase total to the charity every time you use it.

Charity Charge World Mastercard, for example, donates 1 percent cash back to any nonprofit, K-12 school, university or religious organization of your choice – and lets you select up to three organizations for your contributions. The card also waives all processing fees for donations.

Other co-branded rewards cards that can help make a difference include the Susan G. Komen Credit Card and the Paralyzed Veterans of America USAA Rewards Visa Signature card.

“If you’re really committed to a specific cause or charity, it’s a good way to show your support and give money back in a very easy way,” says Bellanger.

If you find a card that supports a cause you love, consider applying for it this holiday season.

4. Shop at retailers that will donate to your favorite charity.

Don’t have a co-branded card? You can still shop for a cause this Giving Tuesday or any other day throughout the holiday season.

AmazonSmile is a site operated by Amazon that donates 0.5 percent of the price of eligible purchases to the nonprofit organization of your choice.

All you have to do is sign up in advance and select your favorite charity. Then shop regularly on AmazonSmile instead of Amazon.com.

Also, some retailers will make charitable donations to specific causes when you purchase certain items.

This season, for example, if you buy a full-sized Christmas tree at Whole Foods, American Forests will plant a tree in a state or national forest, says McKinzey Crossland, a spokeswoman for the company.

Pro tip: If you shop for a cause, make sure to use a rewards card that will give you a cash back bonus for shopping at grocery stores, or at a retailer included in a specific rotating category.

"If you’re really committed to a specific cause or charity, it's a good way to show your support and give money back in a very easy way."

5. Consider donor matching programs.

What if you could double your donation without spending an extra dime? That’s the idea behind matching programs.

Be on the lookout for matching opportunities, both on Giving Tuesday and throughout the holiday season.

Two examples: The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Facebook are teaming up to double charitable donations made on Giving Tuesday, up to a total of $2 million. The donations have to be made on the nonprofit’s Facebook page. Facebook will waive its normal processing charges for the day.

Look at the local level, too. In Austin, Texas, the nonprofit Central Texas Food Bank has announced that, “thanks to matching challenge provided by Beaumont Foundation and Texas Jacobson Aviation,” any donation made through the end of the year will be matched.

Some employers offer one-time donor matching opportunities to employees, often around the holidays or in the wake of a catastrophe. Ask your employer if it is offering a match on donations on Giving Tuesday.

Two examples: Discover matches employee contributions up to $500, says Jeremy Borling, a spokesman for the company, And the card issuer is adding an extra $50 bonus match for employee contributions made on Giving Tuesday.

Credit card giant Mastercard matches employees’ charitable gifts all year, from $25 up to $5,000.

Employee donor matching is “definitely becoming a more popular option as employees are becoming more cognizant of support for donations,” says Nason of Charity Navigator.

6. Never skip the research.

No matter how you give, it pays to ask a couple of questions before you present your card, send a check or drop a donation in one of the Salvation Army’s red kettles.

Websites such as Charity Navigator, CharityWatch and GuideStar are great for researching organizations, getting a snapshot of their work, and finding out how much of the money goes to causes and how much is spent on administration.

Eager to give for disaster relief? Here are seven groups that get high marks from Charity Navigator and/or CharityWatch: American Red Cross, Americares, Direct ReliefDoctors Without Borders, Feeding America, Save the Children and Unicef.

If you want to learn more about specific nonprofits you could donate to, visit the GivingTuesday website.

See related: How to donate unused rewards miles, points, How a desire to help can easily lead to overspending


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Updated: 12-15-2017