Each year I have high hopes for giving during the holidays, and every year I find myself coming up on the end of the month wondering if I could have done more. Truth is, it’s difficult to arrange volunteer efforts when you have small children, and it’s easy for “giving back” to fall to the wayside…next thing you know it’s December 22, and it doesn’t seem like there are any options left.
But help doesn’t have to be elaborate to be effective, and it’s not too late to give. Gather your kids and discuss these three ways you can still squeeze in charitable giving before Christmas:
1) Donate to a large charity. On my list: Red Cross, Heifer International, and the Boys and Girls Club of America – three well-respected organizations that welcome last-minute donations. I also like that the organizations focus on different things: the Red Cross offers humanitarian and emergency aid to people in need across the globe; Heifer works to end poverty by empowering families to become more self-reliant and rise out of poverty, and the Boys and Girls Club focuses on helping at-risk kids in local communities across the United States. If you’re involving older kids in the giving, you can have them research organizations and help you choose which ones to support: Charity Navigator is a research tool that tells you about organizations’ accountability and effectiveness.
2) Think local. Chances are very good that there is an organization in your backyard that could really use your help. Try doing a search for the name of your town or county, plus “food pantry” or “food bank” and see what comes up. Also check out local diaper drives: many moms in need can’t afford enough diapers for their babies and toddlers. Cash is always appreciated since these organizations can often do more with a dollar than an individual can, but if you’d like to donate goods, make a phone call or send an email to see what the organization needs most. For example, I donated to a diaper drive held by my local Great Start Collaborative, but if I hadn’t checked with the organizer (who happens to be a good friend of mine!) I wouldn’t have known that they were most in need of newborn and size 1 diapers.
3) A personal touch. Sometimes it’s more fun and rewarding to give directly. I’ve been so touched by stories of the “Layaway Angels” popping up all over the United States, paying off families’ layaway tabs just before the holiday. Other ideas: buy a gift card in the checkout aisle, and ask the cashier to give it to the next person in line; pay for the meal of the person behind you in the drive-through; hire the guy looking for “odd jobs” and pay him well, or leave your server an unusually big tip when you eat out. As somebody who worked as a waitress in low-tab establishments for several years, I know just how hard the servers at a Denny’s or Steak N Shake can work, for very little pay – $50 or $100 could literally change a family’s holiday. So our family is planning a secret “big tip” mission to a local low-cost restaurant.
The trick with surprise personal giving is that you often don’t know anything about the recipient, and I know some people struggle with the idea of giving to somebody who doesn’t “need” it as much as another person might. In those situations I try to remember that “need” is relative in any case, and often, need is invisible. Plus, you never know the ripple affect my gift could have: even if the person who receives it isn’t financially needy, they may feel inspired to give on an even larger level. They may pass on the gift to someone else who really needs it. Or they may simply feel more hopeful and happy about the world they live in. And that’s an important gift, too.
Are you planning any last-minute giving this holiday?