A Gift Guide for Giving Back this Holiday Season

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giving back this holiday season

‘Tis the season for giving and I’ve shared plenty of gift guides to give to friends, coworkers, family, and other loved ones. But this season is a great time to give to those less fortunate or to causes that improve this world we live in. A few ideas on how to give back before the end of the year (or honestly at any time).

Donate Gift Cards

Did you get a gift card this season for a store where you never shop? Have any partial gift cards floating around the house? Donate them! A $5 Starbucks card may just be a fancy latte to you, but for another may be what keeps them from going hungry. At a previous job, we used to do a post-holiday gift card drive and donate them to a local domestic violence shelter and I thought it was such an easy way to make a difference. Last week I gathered up all the partial gift cards we had and any we received that we didn’t need and donated them to CharityChoice. With CharityChoice you can pick from 250 different charities to receive your gift cards and you can even print out your mailing label from the website.

Goodwill also accepts gift cards as a donation. Plywood People is a non-profit in Atlanta that leads a community of start-ups doing good; they too accept gift card donations. Use a Sharpie to write the balance on the front of the cards; most gift cards have a website to easily look up the balance. If you are donating your gift card to a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization, the entire value of the gift card is tax deductible.

Donate Your Time

Sure, soup kitchens and toy and coat drives are hot before Christmas but what happens after? Many of us have off work and school this coming week, start a new family tradition by dedicating time between Christmas and New Year’s each year to a local charity. Some ideas:

Use this week to clean out your closets and donate coats and winter necessities to a local coat drive or your nearby Goodwill. If you have kids, a new tradition can be cleaning out toys to make room for what Santa brought and together bring the good condition toys to a local donation center.

  • Visit a nursing home – the holidays can be lonely for many, especially for the elderly or infirmed. Nursing homes, assisting living facilities, hospitals, and hospice centers usually welcome visitors if you call and plan in advance and this is a great activity for a family or group of all ages.
  • Donate blood – This is something that is needed year-round, but an easy family or friend annual tradition to do as a group. Click this link to find a Red Cross blood drive near you.
  • Write thank you cards to those who make your community better. The police, fire and rescue, and public works are constantly on call to keep your holidays safe and comfortable.
  • Volunteer time at a local animal shelter – many shelters also accept donations of old linens as well as gifts of food and other supplies from a specific donation list.
  • Be a foster grandparent – I learned about UPO’s Foster Grandparent program on a local news show and had to share it. UPO’s Foster Grandparent Program trains low-income seniors with caring spirits to provide attention, guidance, and support to DC children in a variety of local settings, including early education centers, elementary schools, hospitals, and youth programs.
  • Show your thanks to our troops – I’ve written about Operation Gratitude before; it’s a great organization that delivers care packages to deployed troops. Emerson’s Girl Scout troop makes cards for troops with Operation Gratitude, but you can donate money, organize a drive or fundraiser, and even volunteer to help pack care packages.

Share your End of Year Bonus

Many jobs provide bonuses at the end of the year. If possible consider donating even a few dollars of it to an organization that can really benefit from it. Imagine if each of us donated just $5 what a major impact that could have. A few of my favorite organizations that I donated to this year:

  • I Support the Girls – I Support the Girls collections feminine hygiene products and bras for homeless women and those in areas hit by natural disasters. While they appreciate donations of bras and products, financial donations helps them grow and access more women. Learn more about I Support the Girls in this blog post.
  • The Health Wagon – This organization for the medically under-served and indigent in poverty-stricken areas of rural Appalachia. Learn more about The Health Wagon in this blog post.
  • Guitars for Vets – Donations provide music therapy for veterans who are dealing with PTSD. Learn more about this organization at this blog post.
  • RAINN – RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) is the nation's largest anti-sexual violence organization. RAINN created and operates the National Sexual Assault Hotline. RAINN also carries out programs to prevent sexual violence, help survivors, and ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice.
  • Luke’s Wings – Luke’s Wings provides free travel to families to reunite them with service members who have been wounded in battle. They also support veterans in hospice care. Learn ore about this organization in this blog post.
  • Planned Parenthood –Planned Parenthood provides healthcare to those who cannot afford insurance, hospitals, and doctors. Planned Parenthood offers screening for cancer, prenatal visits and care for pregnant women, and a visit with a medical professional that many women may never otherwise have. Yes Planned Parenthood offers abortions, but they do so much more and support underserved communities with necessary, affordable healthcare. You can read more about Planned Parenthood in this blog post.
  • CARE – CARE works around the globe to save lives, defeat poverty and achieve social justice. Right now any donation will automatically be doubled. Learn more about CARE in this post.
  • Moms Demand Action – Your donation can help prevent gun violence and save lives
  • Breast Care for Washington – they provide access to breast cancer screening, diagnostics, and treatment to all women regardless of their ability to pay.
  • The Breastfeeding Center – I had the opportunity to partner with Lyft this holiday season and gift a $1,000 ride credit to them plus I donated a portion of Wardrobe Oxygen’s profits to this organization that provides lactation support, pumps, and education to women in the DC area.

Make Giving Back a New Year’s Resolution

There’s no expiration date on being charitable, starting January 1st with a resolution to give back is a wonderful way to start 2019 on a positive note. Charities really appreciate monthly donations as it helps them better plan out their initiatives and budget their financing. Even $5 a month can truly benefit an organization and if you set up monthly payments it’s a “set it and forget it” system where you receive a receipt in your inbox each month when the payment goes through.

I’d love to hear how you give back this holiday season or any time of the year. And I wish you and yours a happy and safe holiday season!

A woman with curly hair wearing a plaid blazer holds a green fur coat over her shoulder on a city street.

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  1. Just last week a friend and I were talking about the best gift being TIME.
    We donated an entire afternoon to editing a friend’s closet – it was over 6 hours, but the best gift ever.
    We got to laugh and spend time together while helping a friend.

  2. Set up monthly donations. Many ppl give at the end of the year, but it may be easier to budget a little something each month – $10/month, for example, is still $120/year but isn’t as big of a one-time hit. Plus, charities can depend on the consistent support. You can do it online w/most any organization & have the amount automatically deducted from a bank account or credit/debit card or PayPal.

  3. Thanks for sharing, Alison! I’d also encourage folks to donate to local organizations in their areas run by people of color, other marginalized groups, and intersections thereof. Structural racism and institutional discrimination cause burdens for those groups that many of us don’t face (or even realize) and it’s important to support their efforts to help their own communities.

  4. I volunteer year round at my local animal shelter as well as foster, and wanted to let your readers know that in addition to taking your old towels, blankets and sheets, many shelters have an Amazon wish list for much needed new supplies, and there are items at all price points. It makes it so easy to send a little something that you know they need. You can also make sure you make your own purchases through Amazon Smile, where you can pick your recipient and Amazon will donate a small amount for each purchase you make…it costs you nothing! As you said, everyone’s pennies add up!

  5. I’m sure your savvy readers would look into the mission of any organization before choosing to donate, but I wanted to flag that Kars for Kids’ mission is primarily spreading religious teachings, which may not be everyone’s preference to support. Charitywatch dot org has a good article on them. Many local orgs working on domestic violence or homelessness welcome gift cards too!

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