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As the end of the year quickly approaches, many people are focusing their attention on ways they can help others. One of the most popular things people do to make a difference in their communities is to make charitable contributions.

If you're one of the many people who give to charity, then you know the impact that even a small donation can have. So if you have the opportunity to double that impact, it's a no-brainer to take full advantage. And fortunately, many people have exactly that opportunity.

Work with your employer
When you think of all the benefits you get from your employer, the ones that first come to mind are things like health insurance and employer-sponsored retirement plans. Those are addressed directly at you and your own personal financial well-being -- and they're the sorts of things that most workers desperately need to stay financially stable.

However, another extremely useful employee benefit doesn't directly help the employee at all. Many companies, including Merck (NYSE: MRK  ) , agree to match the charitable contributions that their employees make, by adding a donation on top of yours to multiply the impact of your gift.

Unfortunately, the recession has taken its toll on the number of companies offering charitable matching. Last year, during the height of the recession, companies including Procter & Gamble (NYSE: PG  ) , Northrop Grumman (NYSE: NOC  ) , and Weyerhaeuser (NYSE: WY  ) suspended or reduced their charitable matching. Given how important corporate commitments are to the health of nonprofit organizations across the nation and throughout the world, you have to hope that just as employers have started restoring matching contributions on employee 401(k) plans, they'll also recognize the value of charitable matching and restore those benefits as well.

In any event, many companies still add to their employees' charitable contributions. Home Depot (NYSE: HD  ) , for instance, matches donations between $25 and $1,000 on a dollar-for-dollar basis. ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM  ) recently announced that its employees had raised $2.7 million for charities in the metropolitan D.C. area. As an added twist, Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) not only matches financial contributions but also donates $17 per hour that their employees volunteer for a given organization. That gives you the added satisfaction of knowing not only that your work is making a difference, but also that every minute you put in adds more money to your favorite charity's coffers.

Make a difference
The nice thing about employer charitable matching is that you remain in control of the process. You determine which charities you want to receive your donation. Most charitable matching programs only require that the institution receiving your gift be an officially recognized charitable nonprofit organization with tax-exempt status from the IRS. That's just as important from your perspective, as it ensures that your financial contributions will give you a full tax deduction.

In addition, it's also a useful way to funnel money into your local community. Although many see large corporate foundations as faceless institutions without a local impact, the reality is that they're all composed of people just like you and me who see problems in their own cities and towns and want to take steps to fix them. There's no better way to get your employer to take some of its hard-earned profits and dedicate them to local use than by using a charitable matching program.

Here at the Fool, we also think making an impact locally is important. That's why this year, our Foolanthropy campaign is focusing on a local public charter school, the Thurgood Marshall Academy. Through a combination of financial and volunteer support, we hope to make a difference in the lives of hundreds of teens by giving them the foundation to be smarter about their finances.

There are so many things you can do to help, and they don't all require a big commitment. Whether you volunteer your time, make a donation, or simply spread the word about the things you favorite charities are doing in your community, you can do your part to change things for the better close to home.

Go for a double
Regardless of exactly what you do, make sure to look into the possibility that your employer will match your efforts. Doubling your money has never been so easy -- and your local charities are depending on you to take that extra step and maximize the impact that your donation can make.

Find out more about our Foolanthropy campaign right here.

Fool contributor Dan Caplinger is giving it his all this year. He doesn't own shares of the companies mentioned in this article. Home Depot and Microsoft are Motley Fool Inside Value recommendations. The Fool owns shares of Procter & Gamble, which is a Motley Fool Income Investor selection. Motley Fool Options has recommended a diagonal call strategy on Microsoft. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. The Fool's disclosure policy gives as good as it gets.

Read/Post Comments (1) | Recommend This Article (7)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On December 22, 2009, at 8:44 PM, DDHv wrote:

    Better than waiting for politicos to solve the problems. Too often, the problem is that people are waiting instead of working on it for themselves!

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Dan Caplinger

Dan Caplinger has been a contract writer for the Motley Fool since 2006. As the Fool's Director of Investment Planning, Dan oversees much of the personal-finance and investment-planning content published daily on With a background as an estate-planning attorney and independent financial consultant, Dan's articles are based on more than 20 years of experience from all angles of the financial world.

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Foolanthropy 2010

“With an innovative, deserving partner in Thurgood, we’re focusing our efforts where Fools can make a real difference,” says Motley Fool Co-founder and CEO Tom Gardner. This holiday season, help The Motley Fool give disadvantaged students a superior education.

To learn more about our adopted school, or to make a donation, click here.

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