When a friend approached me a few months ago to sponsor her ride for Muscular Dystrophy, even though it wasn't an especially good financial month for me as a freelancer, I reached right away for my checkbook. The reason I did this had nothing to do with my finances. Giving to her cause helped me appreciate what I do have and feel fortunate to have something extra to share with others.

As it turns out, I am not alone in this. According to Philanthropy Roundtable, 70–90 percent of all U.S. households make some type of modest charitable donation each year. Whether the economy goes down or goes up, whether we have a little or a lot, it seems the citizens of the great United States of America are a reliably generous lot, and generally quite happy to do our part—even if that part is smaller than we might like.

But what if you could donate and get something in return? That is the best of all worlds, right? As it turns out, there are a number of lesser-known donations that give back—some in tax credits, some in amplified gains and some in cash value. These donations include vehicles, blood and fluids, electronics and even your recyclable waste.

Take a look at this list and perhaps you will find a way to give a gift to someone else that literally gives back to you, too!

Donations of vehicles

Vehicle donations can include boats, RVs, cars, trucks, campers, yachts and sometimes even trailer hitches. Donating a vehicle helps others in many ways—some charities auction the vehicle and use the proceeds in their charitable works, while others refurbish the vehicle and give it to a needy family. What makes donating a vehicle particularly attractive (besides the chance to free up space in your garage and skip the extra insurance payments) is the chance to take a tax write-off when you file your annual itemized tax returns. Alternately, you can sell the vehicle yourself and donate the proceeds to a charity of your choice, itemizing your donation for a deduction at tax time.

The IRS has very specific guidelines for choosing a tax-exempt charity and filing for your deduction. But as long as you follow these guidelines (IRS Publication 4303 is the one you need), fill out the proper paperwork and itemize your return, you can deduct up to the fair market value of your donation, or its cash equivalent.

Donations of blood and hair

When you donate blood, just one pint (one unit) can save as many as three people's lives. And the blood you donate can be used in many different ways. It can be donated as-is or separated into white blood cells, red blood cells, plasma, platelets and other components to be used separately. While we tend to mobilize around major tragedies (such as 9/11, when literally half the U.S. population donated blood!), typically just 5 percent of the 60 percent who are eligible to donate do so annually. Here is just a partial list of those who are helped every time you donate blood:

  • Cancer patients
  • Anemic patients
  • Victims of car accidents
  • Burn victims
  • Patients with sickle cell disease and diabetes
  • Premature infants
  • Children with heart disease
  • Organ and bone marrow transplant patients

You can also get paid for specific types of donations (yahoo!). Here is a list of donations that will pay you for giving the gift of life:

  • Plasma. The process for donating plasma is similar to that for donating blood. You can expect to be paid between $20 and $40. Each plasma donation center sets their own minimum donation times—some allow donations every 48 hours, while others limit donations to once per month per donor.
  • Hair. Some organizations will pay you to donate your hair. Check out this previous post on KCL for the how-tos.

Donations of recyclables

While you may not think of your recycling as an earth-saving donation, plenty of organizations do. From newspaper to electronics, glass to plastic, you can save the planet and make some cash, too! Here is a list of some of the types of recyclable items you can donate in exchange for cash:

  • Electronics. Check out this KCL post on how to donate your electronics for cash. In addition to the resources mentioned, you can try USellYouRenew and  MyBoneYard (for a cool extra option to donate the sale proceeds to a charity of your choice).
  • Other recyclables (plastic, glass, paper, aluminum, etc.). Try RecycleBankTerraCycle and Earth911.

This is a guest post by Shannon from Houston, TX