How to Be Routinely Charitable

Airlines and credit card companies make it easy to donate as you fly and spend.
Airlines and credit card companies make it easy to donate as you fly and spend. (Getty Images)
By Christine Dell'Amore
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, October 21, 2007

Giving is more in vogue these days than ever: Americans donated nearly $300 billion to charity last year, according to the Giving USA Foundation. And it's now easier to get a philanthropic bang for your buck thanks to humanitarian-minded credit cards, grocery stores, Web sites and other ways that fit snugly into your daily grind.

"We turn everyday purchases into tools for social change," says Laura Scher, co-founder and chief executive of Working Assets, a credit card, wireless and long-distance company with an altruistic bent. Customers who use its services can nominate their favorite charities, big and little, to receive a small amount of each dollar they spend.

Think a few cents don't add up? Just ask Michael Brune, executive director of the San Francisco-based nonprofit group Rainforest Action Network. "I have staff whose salaries are the very result of contributions from Working Assets," he says. So whether it's protecting the world's rain forests or supporting your kid's elementary school, here's how you can ditch those excuses and start giving -- just by living.

Surf to Save

With the wonders of the Web, goodwill is literally at your fingertips.

  • Point your browser to GoodSearch (, a Yahoo-powered search engine that donates 50 percent of its revenue to the more than 45,000 charities and schools (with 100 more signing on each day) chosen by site users. GoodSearch has attracted such celebrity philanthropists as Jeff Bridges and Jessica Biel, but users are mostly regular folks who want to do good, co-founder Ken Ramberg says. See how much money your pet charity has accrued this month with the site's "Who do you GoodSearch for?" feature.
  • Go on a cyber shopping trip at iGive (, which donates to charity up to 26 percent of each purchase from such popular stores as Macy's and Best Buy. Founder and chief executive Robert Grosshandler says the site has sparked a "virtuous circle" of people spreading the gospel of daily donating.

Get Positively Charged

Why not find a credit card that gives back for each new pair of shoes?

  • If you're an American Express cardholder, enroll in the GivingExpress Program ( Set up your account to donate every time you use your card, or redeem your Membership Rewards points for charities of your choice. American Express also partners with Save the Children: For every 1,000 reward points redeemed, AmEx gives $5 to the international aid group.
  • Sign up for a credit card through Working Assets (, and the company will give 10 cents to a nonprofit group for each purchase made with the card. "People join because we make it easy to make a difference," co-founder Scher says. Choose from 50 charitable groups that cover such issues as education, freedom of expression and civil rights.

Grocery-Shop With a Conscience

Put dinner on the back burner and seek out information about charitable campaigns at your local grocer. Here are a few:

  • Though April 3, Giant shoppers can take part in the A+ BonusBucks Program for schools. Those with Giant BonusCards can select three schools to support; each time you shop, your bill is rounded to the nearest dollar and a matching amount is donated to the program. At the end of each month the chosen schools get a cash award to spend as they see fit. A+ BonusBucks has donated more than $73 million in cash to schools since 1989.
  • From Nov. 20 to Dec. 21, take part in the Neediest Kids Food Drive at area Safeways. In-store announcements and shopping cart signs will remind you to donate food items during your visit. The stores also donate regularly to the Capital Area Food Bank, which doles out surplus meals to hunger-relief organizations in the D.C. area.

Fly the Compassionate Skies

Feeling a twinge of guilt about last month's lavish Caribbean getaway? Give those extra miles to a worthy cause.

  • Donate your frequent-flier miles to the Make-A-Wish Foundation (, which grants the wishes of children with life-threatening illnesses. The group needs more than 2.5 billion miles of air travel each year to complete its mission.
  • Major airlines, including United, Delta and Northwest, will let you turn over some or all of your frequent-flier miles to the American Red Cross ( The aid organization then redeems the miles to dispatch volunteers to disaster areas.

The idea first took off in 1992 after Hurricane Andrew and proved invaluable after Sept. 11, 2001, when several airlines added mileage donations to support disaster preparedness and relief efforts, says Ann Kaguyutan, the Red Cross's director of disaster fundraising. In the 2007 fiscal year, frequent-flier donations saved the American Red Cross about $400,000.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company