The Beauty of Small Gifts or The Mae Tannenhauser Approach to Philanthropy; Plus You Can Get a Special Tax Deduction This Year

By Carol Tannenhauser

Until she died at the age of 98, Mae Tannenhauser, my mother-in-law, gave to charity in a memorable way.

Especially at this time of year, not wanting any of the many solicitations she got to go unanswered, or to disappoint or leave anyone out, she would send a small amount — $5 to $25 — to every organization that asked and that she determined did good work. I remember her saying, as she sat at her dining room table, putting stamps on a stack of envelopes, “I’d rather send a little to a lot.”

With so many people in need this year, it seems particularly important to give to charity, if you can. The government recognized this need with a special tax deduction to spur donations. CNN explains it:

As part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, lawmakers created a special one-time deduction to encourage Americans with some cash to spare to make donations this year.

The deduction, which expires on December 31, applies to tax filers who take the standard deduction on their federal tax return. The IRS estimates more than 87% of filers now take the standard deduction.

Normally, only itemizers may claim their charitable contributions, because the lump-sum standard deduction (currently $12,400 for single filers; and $24,800 for married filers) is intended to cover most deductions.

But this year, on top of taking your standard deduction, you also may take a deduction for cash contributions up to $300, so long as you donate that money by December 31. (Note: It does not apply to non-monetary contributions such as clothing or food.)

In honor of my mother-in-law, I’ve compiled a list of Upper West Side nonprofits I plan to send a little something to for the holidays. It is by no means comprehensive. And, of course, there are countless worthy causes beyond the neighborhood. But if you want to give locally, there’s plenty of need, and plenty of groups doing good work.

Here’s my list, with links, in alphabetical order:

American Museum of Natural History
Bloomingdale’s School of Music
Central Park Conservancy
Children’s Museum of Manhattan
Goddard Riverside Community Center
One Block UWS
Riverside Park Conservancy
Steps on Broadway
Symphony Space
West Side Federation For Senior and Supportive Housing
West Side Campaign Against Hunger
Wild Bird Fund

If I give $25 to each, I’ll equal my $300 deduction. Please add any organizations that you believe do good work in the comments.

Note: This post was inadvertently deleted and appears now in a different position on the thread. Sorry about the lost comments. One mentioned Save NYC Musicians, which sounds worthwhile. Check out the link. Here’s another from the comments:

COLUMNS | 4 comments | permalink
    1. RickiLS says:, half of their students are on some form of scholarship, their scholarship fund makes programs in public schools possible, they make camp possible for many as well. Please look them up and consider donating. They are homegrown…Home location is on the Upper West Side.

    2. Jeff Segall says:

      Please consider WritopiaLab, a community of young writers, ages 6-18 from all over NYC, and from every income bracket. 40% of the kids are on partial or full scholarship. More than two thousand kids from the NYC area are served each year. One thousand of them are from Title I schools, and this year is the first time the Dept. of Education has not provided funding for the Writopia program. Nonetheless, Writopia continues to serve these children, depending even more heavily upon private donations to sustain it. Please check out their website:

    3. lynn says:

      Thanks for reposting. Such a great idea to give a small share and still help out to each organization!

    4. Loren H. Kroll says:

      Kudos to Mae Tannenhauser! She was always a special lady, and now I have another reason to love her (as if I needed any more). She always had good ideas. Interestingly, my Father-in-law gave to charity in the same manner- “a little to a lot.”