States Offer Charity 'Checkoffs' To Give Through Taxes

03/23/2011 10:24 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Ed. Note: This story originally stated that the Colorado Checkoff program raised $3.8 million for charity. In fact, the program has raised $38 million. The story has been updated to reflect the correct amount raised.

Though tax season is dreaded by most, it brings with it an added bonus. Tax refunds are the silver-lining of filing tax returns and, though for some they can be an essentially needed financial boost, they also provide opportunities to give back.

Many states offer "Checkoffs," a list of nonprofit organizations that taxpayers can contribute to directly from their tax refunds. By providing a simple, straightforward way to donate, this small step is going a long way to help others.

"The beauty of the tax checkoff program is that ... regardless of their income or the amount they give, every taxpayer can feel like they are making a real difference," states Jon Pushkin, spokesperson for Checkoff Colorado, which was the first state checkoff program instituted.

Stemming from a 1977 Federal Program that gave taxpayers the option to voluntary contribute a dollar to a presidential campaign fund, the state checkoff program started in Colorado to raise money for wildlife protection.

Since then, the Colorado Checkoff program has raised $38 million and has donated to 28 causes. In the 2009 fiscal year alone, 169,711 Coloradoans contributed over $1.7 million.

Today, 41 states and the District of Columbia have Checkoff programs, which empower individuals to use their refunds in a powerful way.

Though Checkoff programs vary state-to-state, most offer a variety of options of charitable organizations that refunds can be donated to. According to a report done in 2003 by the Federation of Tax Administrators, the organizations selected to participate are heavily vetted, as they are often required to undergo a rigorous review process by the state legislature to qualify. This ensures the organizations available for Checkoff are a position to make the greatest impact for those they serve.

California is the state that has raised the most through its program. According to a statement released by Checkoff California, "since 1984, California's tax check-off program has raised over $89 million and provided critical funding to a diverse range of public health, social service, and environmental preservation programs."

In 2009 alone, over 400,000 Californians participated in the program raking in $4.9 million. Due to marketing efforts done by Checkoff California, it is hoped that this will increase this year so that nonprofits providing badly needed resources for Californians, can remain intact during this time of economic uncertainty.

The California Council of the Alzheimer's Association is one of the 15 organizations depending on funds generated from generous taxpayers. It has been listed on the California tax return since 1987 and has collected $10.2 million.

This money has funded 112 research studies to battle the progressive and fatal brain disease. Alzheimers is on the rise, as death rates have increased by 66 percent since 2000, making it the sixth leading cause of death in California.

Alzheimers is a disease that affects more than it infects as well. "I feel overwhelmed by caregiving responsibilities," a 78-year-old woman told CCAA. "I am plagued by grief, anger, and depression. The disease has not only ruined my husband's life, but mine too."

As nonprofits continue to struggle for survival in the aftermath of the recession that has resulted in an staggering increase in demand for services, Checkoff programs provide an easy way for concerned citizens to give back to programs that badly need their help.

Because the program varies for each state, look for it in the Contributions section on your tax return. If your state does not currently have a program, contribute to Feeding America, or make a difference by writing to your legislator about instituting the program.

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