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Why you can, and should, give generously to charity Add to ...

You can afford it.

We're in a recession, but you can afford to give generously to charity this holiday season.

Sure, unemployment is rising and job security is uncertain for some. But people out there are spending. Mercedes-Benz just reported its best November sales ever, and Porsches and Audis are also selling briskly. The housing market is so hot it's edging toward hysteria. The expensive restaurant my wife and I went to recently was busier than we've ever seen it.

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Statistics Canada reported recently that charitable giving last year dropped by 5.3 per cent. Worse could be in store for 2009. But, there are people who have the wherewithal to give more.

Like my family, for example. We're giving more, partly because there's a need and partly because it's so easy thanks to the way charities have gone online. Take CanadaHelps.org, for example. The website operated by this non-profit, charitable organization acts as a funnel for the 85,000 charities registered with the Canada Revenue Agency.

Go to CanadaHelp's homepage and use the search box to find a specific charity or list of charities working on, say, hunger, or aid to Africa. Supply your credit card number, complete the transaction and in a matter of seconds you'll find a tax receipt in your e-mail inbox.

Online giving is hot, even if the overall level of donation is falling. CanadaHelps said its donations have been rising at a 30-per-cent rate, and it claims that online donations tend to be more generous than those received through the mail. CanadaHelp's average donation is $150 and total giving on its website is expected to reach $40-million this year.

"Online, people donate with their credit card and it seems to be that they're just expecting to spend a little more," said Kirsten Beardsley, marketing and communications co-ordinator for CanadaHelps.

Online donors may also be more motivated, she speculated. They actually seek out their charities, rather than responding to pleas received through direct mail.

It's also possible to donate stocks and mutual funds on CanadaHelps. There's an online pledge form to complete where you specify what securities you want to donate, and to which charities. You then print the form and take it to your investment firm, which can then organize the transfer to your chosen charities.

While you can give to virtually any charity through CanadaHelps, there are about 8,000 organizations that have registered with the website so they can receive weekly direct deposits of donations. Other charities get their money by cheque every month. All charities pay 3 per cent of their donations to CanadaHelps to cover transaction costs.

Another general purpose charity website is GiveMeaning.com, which acts as an online fundraiser for specific projects like Santa in the City, which is trying to fill the wish lists of underprivileged children in Toronto. Browse for worthy projects on the GiveMeaning website and then donate online.

You can give to most charities directly through their own websites these days, including ones that aren't based in Canada and thus can't qualify you for a tax receipt. An interesting variation on this theme is Kiva, a conduit through which people can make loans of as little as $25 to low-income entrepreneurs around the world.

Donating stocks and mutual funds is pretty common, especially since the 2006 federal budget made it possible to give investments to charity and avoid capital gains taxes. Did you know you can also donate Aeroplan and Air Miles points to charity?

"It's a nice 'other' way to give," said Alden Hadwen, manager of corporate social responsibility for Groupe Aeroplan. "Especially because accumulating Aeroplan miles is something one does a little bit selfishly. People find that to give a percentage of that back is a worthwhile thing to do."

Donations can be made on Aeroplan's website to eight charities, including Doctors Without Borders and the Stephen Lewis Foundation. If you contact Aeroplan, you may be able to donate to local charities through its charitable pooling program. Points can be donated at no cost, and one point donated is a point received by the charity. The points are used by charities to defray travel costs.

With Air Miles, you can use 170 points for a $20 donation to Kids Help Phone or Special Olympics Canada, and 125 points for a $20 donation to World Wildlife Fund Canada. Note: using Air Miles to pay for a donation gets you a tax receipt, but a direct donation of Aeroplan points does not.

It's an odd kind of recession we've had here in Canada. Some people are suffering, but there's a big part of the population that's as financially healthy as ever. They can afford to be generous this holiday season.

***

Donating online

Here are some options for charitable giving online:

Website

What You Can Do

CanadaHelps.org

Make online donations to thousands of charities on your credit card or through debit from your bank account

GiveMeaning.com

Donate to charitable projects in Canada and around the world

Aeroplan.com/donate

Donate Aeroplan miles to eight charities; check out local charities eligible for donation by e-mailing charitable.pooling@aeroplan.com

Airmiles.ca

Use Air miles points to pay for cash donations to three charities

Source: Rob Carrick

Follow on Twitter: @rcarrick

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