Most Iowans have plenty to be thankful for this holiday season. We live in relatively prosperous times, in a relatively comfortable place. We enjoy job opportunities, safe neighborhoods and good schools.
But this is not true for everyone in our state. Many of our neighbors have unmet needs that preclude them from sharing in our success. The holiday season provides a moment to reflect on those needs, and to do our part to help.
About a third of Iowa’s working households struggle to meet their basic needs, according to United Way’s 2018 Iowa report on ALICE — or Asset-Limited, Income-Constrained, Employed — families. Some of them do not qualify for government assistance, and instead rely on community nonprofits, which are largely supported by private donations.
The year-end giving season is driven by two seemingly very different things — the holiday spirit of goodwill toward humankind, and the incentive of tax deductions for charitable gifts. The latter motivator could be hampered this year under the federal tax reform package passed late last year by Congress. The law nearly doubled the standard deduction, which means far fewer taxpayers — an estimated 18 million, compared to 46 million last year — will need to file itemized deductions. With that, there may be less incentive to give.
Some nonprofits worry the impact of the tax law could be significant. With that in mind, we encourage those who can give a little more this year to do so.
One opportunity to jump-start your holiday donations is Giving Tuesday, the week following Thanksgiving. Just as Black Friday is for mall shopping and Cyber Monday is for online shopping, philanthropists observe Giving Tuesday as the kickoff to the holiday giving season. Some Eastern Iowa nonprofits will host special donor drives on Giving Tuesday or in the following weeks.
But where to give? With so many choices, the decision can be daunting, but donors today have a greater ability than ever to research organizations and identify causes that align closely with their needs. Many organizations have websites and newsletters to give donors a glimpse at the work they’re doing. There also are services like GuideStar, which post nonprofit firms’ financial filings online for public review.
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The statewide network of 33 local United Way organizations is another great place to start. United Way of East Central Iowa serves five counties, including Linn, and provides funding to more than 20 partner agencies. It’s one organization that strives to communicate the impact of its donors. For example, giving $5 each week provides 780 meals to low-income families throughout the year, and $10 each week provides a whole year of early childhood education for a local child.
If monetary gifts are not in your budget this year, there also are ample opportunities for volunteerism, part of a proud Iowa tradition. About one-third of Iowans volunteer at some point throughout the year, putting us among the top 10 states nationally, according to the Corporation for National and Community Service.
United Way of East Central Iowa maintains a catalog of local volunteer opportunities for individuals and groups. There is a need for both one-time and ongoing volunteers, including some special holiday season projects.
Eastern Iowa is a great place for most, but it could be better. The kindness and generosity of Iowans can ensure that.
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