‘Tis the season of giving! As we approach the holidays, many of us will be thinking about those in need. The needs may be different– food, shelter, medication, money for rent, a big dose of hope, or even a miracle cure–but our individual ability to help in even a small way exists, regardless of the circumstances.
It’s easy to give in small ways on a daily basis. During this time of the year, the Salvation Army Red Kettles are stationed throughout our neighborhoods and around the world; a classic sign of the holiday season, on par with wreaths, poinsettias, and the Hershey’s Kisses commercial (a personal, childhood favorite of mine that still holds up). A dollar one day and a dollar the next adds up. If you want to take it a step further and actually be the friendly sentry ringing the bell, consider a volunteer position. There are other, simple ways to spread the spirit of giving. You can write letters to soldiers through Soldiers’ Angels; the next time you’re in a supermarket or retail store, offer your coupons to a stranger; if you’re a crocheter, visit the charity listings provided by the Crochet Guild of America, or contact your local hospitals, nursing homes, and clinics to see how your talent can be used for a greater good.
When it comes time to select one or two or three charities for larger donations, the process of selecting from among the thousands of worthy causes can seem overwhelming; as much as we would like, it would be impossible to give to every charity. Some people have their standard churches or organizations that they contribute to throughout the year or give larger sums at the end of the year. For those of you trying to weigh your options, the best advice that I can give–though I certainly would not say that it is my place to tell anyone who or what is deserving of your hard earned money–is to select an organization that speaks to you and your life in some way. Charities.org is one way that you can find a suitable organization; it allows you to search based on cause or location.
To ensure that your money will be used ethically, consult one of the three major charity watchdogs: Charity Navigator, BBB Wise Giving Alliance, or CharityWatch (CharityWatch asks for a donation in exchange for the full breadth of information). These sites analyze the accountability, transparency, and income statements of charities and provide ratings that will help you make a smart decision. Other tips, via Consumer Reports, include: verify an organization’s tax-exempt status, give directly to the foundation and not through a fundraiser, request privacy, and make sure you are giving to the correct, accredited organization and not a sound-alike.
An unorthodox, though increasingly popular fundraising source is the website GoFundMe, which is entirely crowdfunded. Average citizens can share their stories and ask for donations as small or large as users can give. Causes run the gamut, from medical and funeral expenses to fire relief (currently a major need for those affected by the Tennessee wildfires), to help with business start-ups. It can be a powerful thing to see the photo of the person or family you are helping and hear their stories.
Finally, the spirit of giving can start young! Forbes writer Emma Johnson highlights three of the best charity sites to teach kids about giving: Watsi.org, Oxfam America, and the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. Teaching your children about making charitable donations will start them on a lifelong path of giving and general civic-mindedness.
Lastly, why not consider donating to a lesser-known cause? For example, there are organizations dedicated to eradicating congenital diseases that are rare, but no less devastating. You might look into the United Mitochondrial Disease Foundation, which supports research towards finding a cure for dozens of mitochondrial diseases, including Pearson Syndrome, or the International Rett Syndrome Foundation, a disease that occurs in 1 out of every 10,000 female births.
For as much as the holidays are about food and gifts, they are are also about the innate potential for good that lives inside each of us. Take this instinct and be generous this season–generous with your time, your talents, and your compassion.