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It's that time of year again. As gift-giving moves into full swing, many people are looking for ways to help others and make a difference in the communities where they live. One common thing those folks end up doing is giving money to charity.

Times are still tough, as the economic recovery has yet to reach full steam. But if you've ever worked with a charitable organization, you know that even small donations can add up to make a huge impact on the success of a charity's mission. And if you're fortunate enough to have an employer who shares your commitment to philanthropy, then you may be able to make your gift go even further.

Double your giving pleasure
For most workers, health insurance and retirement plans are the most important work-related benefits you'll ever receive. After all, your family's health and financial stability rely on health insurance to protect you in the event of a major illness or injury. And if you want to give yourself a comfortable retirement, there's no better way to set money aside than in an employer-sponsored retirement plan, with all of its associated tax benefits.

But some employers offer a benefit that doesn't directly benefit you at all. JPMorgan Chase (NYSE: JPM  ) and MasterCard (NYSE: MA  ) are just a couple of the many companies that match the donations that workers make to charity, adding an amount from their own coffers to your gift.

In the past few years, though, workers and charities alike have learned that they can't take matching programs for granted. During the recession, some companies had to suspend or reduce their matching programs at least temporarily. In early 2009, The Wall Street Journal reported that General Motors (NYSE: GM  ) , Procter & Gamble (NYSE: PG  ) , and CSX (NYSE: CSX  ) were among more than a dozen big companies that made cutbacks on charitable matching gift programs. From the perspective of charities, these moves couldn't have come at a worse time, as the need for funds increased at exactly the same time that funds become harder to come by.

Nevertheless, there are still many companies that will match gifts, some on a dollar-for-dollar basis. And in fact, some companies take matching a step further. 3M (NYSE: MMM  ) and Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) , for instance, will donate money to charities where employees volunteer their time, basically paying an hourly wage to the nonprofit organization to match the value of their workers' efforts.

It's all on you
Charitable matching is a nice benefit in many ways. Unlike most corporate-sponsored giving, you're in complete control of which organizations reap the benefits from charitable matching programs. As long as the charity you choose is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as an official tax-exempt organization, then most matching programs will let you support whatever charity you want.

Another way that charitable matching provides extra value is in keeping more corporate profits within the local communities that they serve. Too often, large corporations are seen as taking money out of small communities, removing much-needed financial resources that could go to support the local area. Charitable matching gives workers the ability to reverse that process, by multiplying their gift and bringing corporate money back into their communities.

Here at the Fool, we think keeping money in our local community is important. That's why for our 2010 Foolanthropy campaign, we've kept our attention on Thurgood Marshall Academy, a D.C.-based charter school. For every comment you make on this or any Fool article throughout the campaign (Nov. 29 to Jan. 7), we'll add another $0.10 to our campaign pledge. At the end of the campaign, we'll give the entire amount -- up to $20,000 -- to the school.

Charitable matching just emphasizes the value of the things you can do to help people without biting off more than you can chew. Whether you give money, time, or just spread the good deeds of local charities, you're doing a valuable service to make your hometown a better place.

Double down
If you're not sure whether your employer has a charitable matching program, ask your HR department about it. For those who are fortunate enough to have this benefit, supersizing your gifts is both valuable and vital to the local charities who need your support more than ever.

To learn more about Thurgood Marshall Academy, or to make a donation, you can visit the TMA website here.

Fool contributor Dan Caplinger has trouble matching his socks, let alone his charitable contributions. He doesn't own shares of the companies mentioned in this article. General Motors, 3M, and Microsoft are Motley Fool Inside Value choices. Procter & Gamble is a Motley Fool Income Investor recommendation. Motley Fool Options has recommended a diagonal call position on Microsoft. The Fool owns shares of and has written covered calls on Procter & Gamble, and owns shares of JPMorgan Chase and Microsoft. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Fool's disclosure policy is our gift to you.

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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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