Can I donate money?

Donate correctly, but how?

Germans donate more and more - whether for humanitarian disasters or for environmental and animal welfare. It is estimated that three to five billion euros are donated to social causes every year. In view of the many areas of application and the large number of aid organizations, donors should check whether their money is really safe and complete when it reaches the addressee. You should recognize “black sheep” among the approximately 600,000 registered non-profit organizations early on. In addition, it is important to avoid the following mistakes as much as possible.

How to avoid making mistakes when making a donation

Although donors are pursuing a good cause with their endeavors, various sources of error lurk that can adversely affect private benefactors:

Is there a receipt for the tax office?

Donations in money or in kind are tax-deductible as a special expense. For this reason, you should get a written receipt, a donation receipt or a donation receipt from the organization that received your donation for every donation. A receipt from the bank is sufficient for sums of money up to 200 euros; contributions above this require a donation receipt. It is presented to the tax office as part of the income tax return.

Have you donated to a reputable donation organization?

To ensure that your donation goes into the right hands, look for the donation seal when choosing a donation organization. For example, organizations with the seal of the DZI (German Central Institute for Social Issues) have previously subjected themselves to strict and chargeable examination procedures. The DZI checks to what extent the goals of the organization correspond to the applicable rights and laws, whether the donated funds are used effectively and the business activities are transparently disclosed.

The following criteria are part of the DZI's donation seal standard:

  • Objective within the meaning of applicable law
  • Adequate management and supervisory structures
  • Objective and transparent advertising and public relations
  • Use of funds according to the greatest possible effectiveness
  • Remuneration based on the status of non-profit status
  • Regular accounting over the financial year

But even smaller clubs without a DZI seal are to be classified as transparent and reputable, provided they have the “Works!” Seal from Phineo or that of the Transparent Society initiative.

Take a close look at the website

Irrespective of any predicates, dubious organizations can be exposed with a detailed look at their website. Signs are, for example, inconsistencies and a lack of transparency in the annual balance sheet or a particularly cruel depiction of human suffering in order to put pressure on potential donors. This contradicts the nature of serious providers.

Did you take care not to commit tax evasion?

Be careful if you donate part of the income directly or if the employer passes your wages directly on to charitable organizations. Finally, income must be identified in order to avoid criminal charges for tax evasion.

In the case of state-approved wage donations, however, parts of the salary are transferred tax-free to the aid organization. The Federal Ministry of Finance usually issues this exception rule in the event of major humanitarian disasters.

Tax deductible donations

Donations for charitable, benevolent and church purposes are considered tax-deductible gifts. Unpaid work, on the other hand, is not deductible. This includes, for example, the free provision of premises, vehicles or services.

Membership fees and donations to non-profit and tax-privileged associations with fields of activity in art, culture, church, religion and science can be deducted from tax if they amount to up to 20 percent of the total income. This does not apply to clubs that are used for recreational activities.

What to consider when donating in kind

Donations in kind such as clothing or toys are also considered special expenses in the tax return. For this purpose, the material value must be noted on the donation receipt. The new price, the duration of use and the condition of the material donation should also be recorded in order to be able to prove their market value.

How and for what you can donate

You have the opportunity to use your donations to address national and international organizations that use them for a wide variety of purposes. So your choice is very much dependent on your personal motivation. Is local animal welfare particularly important to you or do you want to support large humanitarian aid projects in other countries? There are no right or wrong donations here. To find the right donation organization, you can proceed as follows:

Obtain information on donation organizations

A first point of contact for obtaining information about donation organizations is the Internet. On the websites of the individual organizations you can usually find all the necessary details about the working methods and the purposes of the donations. Pay attention to the donation seal as well as a transparent presentation of the organization and its services.

You can also use brochures and leaflets from aid organizations to get an in-depth picture of their work. Here, too, more information than emotionality is an important indicator of seriousness.

You should not allow yourself to be put under pressure by donation organizations that you meet on the street and ask for direct donations. Here it is advisable to study the conditions of the organizations at home carefully in order to avoid unwanted memberships.

Search donation portals on the Internet

On online donation portals, several different charitable organizations in different areas of activity are listed. Donors have the option of making a cashless donation by choosing an organization and transferring a sum of money online. In most cases, this is possible via direct debit, credit card payment or PayPal.

Find a suitable donation organization

Donation portals usually present the organizations in an overview and arrange them according to regional and international actors as well as area of ​​activity, so that you can quickly find the right project for you. Most donation organizations offer email contact so you can ask questions online. You can also use comments from older donors as a guide to get a detailed picture of the organization. Here, too, the donation seal is ultimately a reliable indicator of a reputable institution.

Be aware of the differences between local and national organizations

Before making a donation, you should weigh up whether you want to get involved in local or international donation goals. If you donate money to a regional institution, you can assess the impact of your donation on the spot.

However, donations for international projects are just as useful. It is true that more advertising material flows here, so that well-known organizations tend to receive more donations. On the other hand, however, the financing requirements of such supra-regional initiatives are correspondingly higher.

Choose a suitable time to donate

Most people tend to donate around Christmas or after sudden events such as natural disasters or humanitarian emergencies. After all, donors have more money at the end of the year through savings or Christmas bonuses. Large organizations have adapted to this circumstance and built structures to distribute the funds throughout the year.

Smaller organizations, on the other hand, are confronted with bottlenecks in the summer. The awareness of donations is less pronounced during this time, and the holiday coffers of private individuals tend to be emptier. Smaller institutions benefit from donations especially at this time of year.

Advantages and disadvantages of donating money and in kind

You can support charitable projects with monetary and material donations. However, please note the differences between the two donations. Donations have the advantage that they can be used flexibly by the recipient. After all, employees of the aid organization on site can better estimate how the money can be used sensibly. Donors, on the other hand, are sometimes unable to fully understand the path of their donation. Some organizations offer the service on their website to precisely track their own donations.

It is different with donations in kind. The use of the donation can be determined by you directly; the donation is therefore - unlike monetary donations and their potentially flexible use - earmarked per se. Material resources can become indispensable, especially in the event of sudden disasters. However, the transport of donations in kind often incurs additional costs. Aid organizations in permanent crisis regions are therefore usually more dependent on monetary donations.

Purposeless versus earmarked donations

Many donors pursue specific goals with their donation and want to support a very specific project, for example. This is achieved with a specific donation that is accompanied by the greatest possible transparency.

However, an earmarked donation also poses problems, for example if non-profit organizations receive too much earmarked money and ultimately cannot spend all of it for this specific purpose. Many different organizations may be collecting for earthquake relief aid so the amount is enough. In this case, however, the extra money cannot be used for other purposes. Flexible and purposeless donations are an advantage in this case and can be used elsewhere. That is why donation organizations are increasingly relying on non-purposeful donations. Donors should, however, pay particular attention to seriousness.

Overview of donation organizations

In the following you will find a selection of reputable donation organizations, classified according to the different focus areas and fields of activity:

Field of activityDonation organization
Humanitarian aidDoctors Without Borders e.V.
Doctors of the world
Health aidGerman Cancer Aid
German Caritas Association
Child aidSOS Children's Villages
Refugee aidUN Refugee Aid e.V.
Syrienhilfe e.V.
Environment and nature protectionGreenpeace e.V.
German Animal Welfare Association

255 organizations currently bear the DZI donation seal. The initiatives have a total of 1.4 billion euros in donations. This corresponds to around a third of the total donation volume in Germany.

Alternatives to donating money and in kind

In addition to donations in cash and in kind, you can also help people in need in other ways. You can do this in a very personal way by buying a homeless newspaper that is offered by homeless people in many large German cities.

Voluntary work also makes sense in order to support a good cause directly on site. Instead of monetary or material donations, the help is provided through your own work - whether regularly or for a certain period of time.

How you can volunteer

Over 14 million people volunteered in Germany in 2016. The possibilities and areas of activity are diverse. This includes, for example, working in regional institutions such as kindergartens, participating in environmental projects or looking after young people or the disabled.

You can find engagements in initiatives, associations and projects in your area on the Internet either on the portal of your city or, for example, in the volunteer database of “Aktion Mensch”. The most common fields of activity include:

  • education
  • Disability and participation
  • Life in old age
  • migration
  • poverty
  • sport and freetime
  • Environment and animal welfare
  • Media and culture

Depending on the individual associations and clubs, volunteers must meet a certain minimum age.

What you should consider when doing voluntary work

Voluntary work is usually not remunerated. However, volunteer workers can claim an expense allowance as part of the volunteer fee. This remuneration is usually taxable, provided that the expense allowance amounts to up to EUR 2,400 per year. The expense allowance for club boards or referees is only tax-free up to 720 euros. For legal entities under public law, the tax-free amount is 175 euros.

The exercise of an honorary position does not require the permission of the employer. After all, the engagement takes place alongside an existing employment relationship. However, because this is a sideline job, you should at least inform the employer about your voluntary work. According to the law, the upper limit of 48 hours of working hours per week for the main job and the secondary job as a whole may not be exceeded.