Here are the tips I provided:
- Identify charities that match your charitable interests: Determine what it is you want to accomplish – such as help those hurt by the economic impact of the spill, clean up the damaged marshlands, assist with injured animals-- and identify charities that work to achieve those goals.
- Vet the charities: Confirm that each is a real nonprofit and, if at all possible, confirm that it has done this time of disaster work before. Examine the accomplishments of each group until you are left with a list of exceptional charities for whom you'd be proud to work.
- Quantify and qualify what you can offer:
- How much time can you realistically give?
- What days of the week and time of day are you available to volunteer?
- What unique talents do you possess that would help with this particular disaster?
- What tasks are you unable or not willing to do?
- What do I hope to gain from the experience? (Do you want to develop a new skill set that would be transferable to the workplace? Do you want to meet new people with similar interests? Do you just want the gratifying feeling of helping?)
- Make a commitment: Volunteers that show up late, cancel at the last minute and produce limited results encumber the charity, costing it money and preventing it from meeting its goals.
- Deduct the related expenses: The value of the time you spend volunteering is not deductible, but out-of-pocket expenses incurred while volunteering (for a qualified organization) may be deductible. For example, you can deduct mileage incurred while volunteering at a rate of $0.14 /mile.
Of course, these tips are predicated on you volunteering for an actual 501 (c ) (3) public charity. If you run into community groups that are not actual charities, then tread carefully. See if they are affiliated with a bona fide nonprofit. And be suspicious of any such groups that ask for you to, for example, pay them to cover the cost of your participation.
For more specific volunteer options related to the oil spill check out the Louisiana Serve Commission’s website. You can also call them at 2-1-1 (local) or 800-755-5175 (out of state) to learn more.