The feelings of gratitude and good will that infuse the holiday season often inspire people to give back to the community. Nearly 50 percent of all charitable giving happens in the six weeks between Thanksgiving and the New Year, says Sandra Miniutti, vice president of marketing for Charity Navigator, an organization that evaluates charities. But before you write that check or sign up to help at a soup kitchen, consider all the many ways that you can help others.
Do Your Research
The holidays are a good time to set up your charitable plan for a day, month or year. Think about what charities you want to support and volunteer for, how much money or time you can give and when you can give, Miniutti said. Keep in mind that the season is also rife with charitable scams, so be sure to thoroughly research an organization before you write a check.
Related: Charity Navigator
Create a Giving Circle
Your donation to a nonprofit is a great act of generosity, but imagine what impact you could have if that same donation was multiplied by 100 or 200. The Giving Circles Network offers a way for groups of people to pool their charitable giving to help solve a problem or help a specific cause or charity. "The point is to get as many people to participate so you can actually make a difference," Miniutti said.
Related: Giving Circles Network
Participate in Giving Tuesday
Shoppers throughout the United States flock to "Black Friday" and "Cyber Monday" sales events in the days just after Thanksgiving, and that's what inspired a coalition of nonprofits to create "Giving Tuesday," which was to take place for first time on Nov. 27, 2012. It's a day for people to give and volunteer for charitable causes and activities. That could mean giving money to your favorite charity or celebrating those in your community that serve, Miniutti said.
Related: Giving Tuesday
Volunteer as a Family
Volunteer events like cleaning up park trails and creating care packages for people in need get the whole family involved in giving. Many charities have an age limit on volunteering services, however. If your children are too young to sort food at a food bank, for example, go to the dollar store and have them create small goody bags for those with children who are picking up food at the food bank, Miniutti suggested.
Your holiday shopping can help others, and not just those receiving the gifts. Many companies donate a certain portion of their revenue to charitable causes. Websites such as GoodSearch.com and We-care.com offer ways to give a small percentage of what customers buy online from participating stores to a charity they designate. Working Assets, a provider of cellular and long-distance telephone service and credit cards, also gives to charity and asks their customers to pick nonprofits to receive donations.
Related: Working Assets
Charities provide an opportunity to help others, but remember that there is need all around you. Look to your schools, community centers, workplace or houses of worship to see which one could use a helping hand. For even more personal giving, perhaps you can help your elderly neighbor pick up her medicine, give frequent flier miles to a friend that can't afford a visit home or cook meals for a family going through a challenging time.
Parties for Good
The holidays are often filled with social gatherings, from workplace events to parties with friends and family. If you are hosting a holiday event, consider asking all your guests to bring a canned good or toy that you can donate to a shelter or charity. If your office is having an event, ask to organize a charitable component.
Don’t Wait Until the Holidays
While giving during the holidays is traditional, consider donating or volunteering year-round. Many charities are inundated with gifted items or volunteers during the holidays but are often in great need at other times during the year. "Food banks get so much support during the holidays, but come summer they're in dire straits," Miniutti said. "And that's often when they have the most demand for food because school is out and some children aren't getting their meals."