When you help someone else, you’re also helping yourself. How? Helping others is linked to the release of the three hormones responsible for happiness. One way to help others continually, especially when you may feel a twinge of guilt as a consumer, is to donate to charities via your purchases. You could give through the retailer’s or grocer’s charity program at checkout, but there are other avenues that grant you more control over which charities receive the donations.
1) Charity-linked Credit Cards
The first method is to donate via charity credit cards. These are linked directly to a specific charity, and they’re set up similar to a cash-back scenario: You make a purchase, and a predetermined percentage is donated directly to the charity. Some cards are co-branded, so the charity’s name and image appear on the card. Some cards also donate a small lump sum for every card issued or renewed.
The Susan G. Komen Foundation Cash Rewards Visa credit card donates 0.8% of every purchase directly to the foundation, and the cardholder still receives their own cash-back rewards on par with competing, non charity cards. World Wildlife Fund card is similarly co-branded and boasts the same donation advantages. Both make a $3 donation for each successful new or renewal application. For every restaurant purchase, the AARP credit card donates $0.10 to AARP’s Drive to End Hunger.
The co-branded style allows you to donate and show your affinity for a specific organization, but it does tether you to only a single charity.
Conversely, nonspecific cards offer a choice of charities. Charity Charge lets cardholders choose up to three charities as recipients, and the company claims it lists every charity and nonprofit in the United States. The card donates a tax-deductible and processing-fee-free 1% of every purchase to the chosen charity automatically. A contender to Charity Charge could be the HaloCard. As of April 2018, HaloCard is not accepting new applications, but the company is working toward a solution, so applications may start again in the future.
2) Donate Points
If you find the charity credit cards do not suit your needs for any reason, you can still donate accumulated points. The Red Cross and Save the Children are just two charities that accept rewards points donations directly, but there are dozens of others. The Make-a-Wish Foundation, among plenty of others, accepts airline miles.
Points may be redeemed for cash donations, and miles are often used for transporting charity personnel to on-site locations or awarding tickets to passengers to flee a crisis. Hotel points may be used in disaster areas to provide accommodations to those affected by the disaster. Every major U.S. airline and many hotel chains offer a donation option for partnered charities.
Your donations need not come through credit cards, either. Many loyalty programs (hotels included) offer CharityChoice gift cards or allow donations directly.
3) Donate Directly
You could also donate funds directly as dollars. This builds rewards points and credit (and tax deductions) on your behalf while simultaneously providing funds for any charity that accepts credit card donations (which is almost any). If you are really in the spirit of giving, you might even redeem points for cash back and donate those as well. Note, some networks and issuers may charge fees on donations, which means the charity will receive less than you paid.
Some Additional Considerations
There are a few considerations to make. Every card and personal situation requires its own analysis:
1. Ensure you pay off your entire credit card bill every month. You will pay more in interest than you will ever redeem in points and cash back donations.
2. Be familiar with restrictions and whether your charity accepts non dollar donations.
3. Decide if you want to always donate with charity-linked cards or if you prefer to accumulate points, then donate excess ones freely.