The Giving USA Foundation released a report called "Giving USA 2010," which indicates that total charitable giving for 2009 was approximately $303.75 billion. Individuals accounted for 75% of all giving, or $227.41 billion. Despite a challenging economic climate, individuals are still inclined to make charitable contributions to a variety of causes. The media provides us with ample opportunities for charitable giving, and easy and convenient ways to send the money - often with just a text message. (For more, see Give To Charity; Slash Your Tax Payment.)
We don't always see the effects of our generosity. Donating locally allows individuals to feel connected to their communities and see how their giving creates positive change. A small donation can go a long way to aid a local non-profit organization. Here are eight ways you can donate locally and make a positive contribution to your community.

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  1. DonorsChoose.org
    DonorsChoose.org connects donors with local classrooms in need. Donors can search for school projects by state, district, subject or by urgency. Projects include raising money to take a field trip to a science museum or purchasing weekly reading books for elementary school children. Donors receive thank-you letters from the teacher along with a cost report of how each dollar was spent. Donors who give more than $100 will also receive hand-written letters from the students.
  2. Food Banks
    One in six people in the United States is at risk for hunger. Feeding America (www.feedingamerica.org) is a non-profit organization that assists individuals and families in need of food. By visiting its website and using the Food Bank Locator tool, donors can find food banks that serve their region. Typically, food banks are happy to accept donations of money, food and/or volunteerism. (Learn more about donations, in Give To Charity; Slash Your Tax Payment.)
  3. Family Resource Centers
    Most communities have a family resource center that develops and provides programs and services to strengthen families in the area. These can include educational programs to assist with parenting skills, teen mentoring programs or holiday meal and/or gift drives providing for needy families.

    Since most of these centers exist within a small budget, contributions are always welcome. Contact your city or county government office, or search on www.statelocalgov.net, to find out if your community has a family resource center.

  4. Domestic Violence Shelters
    According to the National Network To End Domestic Violence, more than 65,000 adults and children in the United States are served each day by domestic violence programs. These programs receive funding from foundations, corporations and government sources, but are in constant need of further funding to provide care to needy adults and children. Contact your local city or county government office, or the Department or Social Services to find a local shelter in need of donations ranging from money to clothing and blankets.
  5. Animal Shelters
    Animal shelters provide housing, medical treatment and adoption services for troubled animals. Most, if not all, shelters have more animals than they can support. In an attempt to curb the fast-growing population of unwanted animals, these shelters usually offer discounted or free spay and neuter procedures.

    With so many animals to care for, local shelters are in need of money, food, toys, supplies and volunteers. You can find a local shelter by visiting www.animalshelter.org and clicking on "Animal Shelters" to search by state or zip code. (For more, see The Economics Of Pet Ownership.)

  6. Thrift Shops
    Many non-profits operate local thrift shops (second-hand stores) as a means of raising money for the organizations. You can donate items such as clothes, books, computers, furniture or toys to the thrift shop. They, in turn, sell the items and the money earned goes towards the non-profit. Some areas have numerous thrift shops, so you may want to research what each benefits to ensure you are donating to a cause that you would like to support.
  7. Rotary Club
    Rotary International is a service club organization with more than 33,000 clubs worldwide. Rotary club members volunteer locally, regionally and internationally to combat hunger, improve health and sanitation, provide education and job training and promote peace. Local rotary clubs accept donations to assist with ongoing and special projects, including community improvements or scholarship funds.

    Visit www.rotary.org and click on "Club Locator" at the top to find a local Rotary club. You can search by club name, city, town or district number.

  8. Other Non-Profits.
    Each city typically has many more non-profits that may be specific to the area, such as a local community theater or environmental cause like protecting a wilderness area. A bit of research and you might find a local charitable organization that falls in line with your interests.

    NonProfitList.org (www.nonprofitlist.org) allows you to search by state and city for non-profit organizations.

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The Bottom Line
Giving locally does not mean you cannot give to broader causes as well. One advantage to giving locally is that the donations can exist in many forms, such as money, clothes, food, time or expertise. Another aspect of local giving is that many people enjoy knowing they are doing something to help improve their communities. There are countless worthy causes on local, regional, national and international levels, and deciding which ones to support can be a challenge. (Want to see where the most charitable communities are? Check out the Top 5 Most Charitable American Cities.)

For the latest financial news, check out Water Cooler Finance: The Post-Stimulus Slump.

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