The holiday gift-giving season can bring immense joy. But it’s also filled with long lines, time spent double-checking lists, and sometimes a lingering feeling that the gift you give won’t be appreciated. So, try something a little different for the holidays this year.
Instead of a present, gift card, or tchotchke, donate to a charitable organization in someone else’s name. It’s a wonderful way to spread generosity and goodwill, and it could even help you stick to a budget during a perennial period of overspending.
Donations can also be meaningful to the gift receiver, particularly if you put the time in effort into finding a cause that the person is passionate about. And you can still share your sentiments, and explain why you chose that charity, with a card
To help give you some ideas, we’ve matched various interests with worthy nonprofits, and intentionally tried to find causes that (hopefully) won’t start a political debate over dinner.
Animal Lovers – A Local Zoo or Animal Shelter
While there are several large, national organizations that do great things for animals (such as the Humane Society), a local shelter or nonprofit zoo could be a more meaningful choice. The person will know you’re helping his or her community and will be able to visit the animals. A local zoo could also be a good choice for young children who may love that you saved a kitten in their name, or that they can visit their adopted elephant at the local zoo.
Outdoors Enthusiasts – Wild Earth Allies
One of the few organizations to earn a perfect 100 on Charity Navigator, Wild Earth Allies works to protect ecosystems and animals by partnering with local organizations and individuals around the world. It currently has four initiatives: great apes, marine turtles, threatened trees, and Asian elephants.
Aspiring Authors – National Novel Writing Month
NaNoWriMo is a literary non-profit that provides folks with the resources and encouragement they may need to write a novel. The organization runs a variety of writing-related programming throughout the year. But the big event takes place every November, when hundreds of thousands of people pledge to write a 50,000-plus word novel in 30 days.
Techies – The Electronic Frontier Foundation
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has been defending digital rights and online free speech for over 25 years. It brings together policy experts, attorneys, and an international member base to advocate for policy change and bring court cases against large corporations, or even governments, to defend content creators.
Educators – 826 National or DonorsChoose.org
A small and growing nonprofit, 826 National is a great pick for former and current educators. Online, 826 National offers free curriculum to teachers who want to help students get creative and learn to write. It also has seven offices across the country, which provide free after-school services. Alternatively, DonorsChoose.org allows you to search for a local classroom and donate towards a specific project a teacher’s needs. For example, additional books for a reading corner, or money to fund a class field trip.
Veterans and Military Members – Operation Homefront
A national charity, Operation Homefront assists military families during times of need. Its programming includes food assistance, auto or home repairs, moving assistance and rent-free housing for wounded veterans and their families. It has a mortgage-free housing program, and organizes a toy drive and delivers meal kits to families during the holidays.
Art Aficionados – Americans for the Arts
For the museum-goer, donating to the individual’s favorite local museum is always a good option. Alternatively, you can support Americans for the Arts. It believes art can transform and heal people and advocates for policies that protect and preserve art. To this end, it works with influential individuals, local communities, and organizations like art or business councils to help keep art accessible to everyone.
Those Affected by Cancer – Cancer Research Institute
CharityWatch ranks the Cancer Research Institute as a top charity due in part to the nonprofit’s ability to inexpensively raise money and efficiently spend its funds. The Cancer Research Institute doesn’t focus on a single type of cancer; rather it supports immunotherapy research by funding doctors, researchers, and clinical trials. Immunotherapy could help train patients’ immune systems to identify and fight off a wide variety of cancer cells.
Making the Most of a Limited Budget
While there are many worthy causes, ensure you’re sticking to your budget while making donations this year. You don’t need to specify how much you gifted, just that you chose a charity for a specific reason and are helping support it.
To make your gift go further, you could look for a charitable organization that currently has a matching donor that will double or triple your gift’s impact. You can also ask your employer if it will match your donations, as many large organizations have matching gift programs. Search your company’s website or ask HR if you’re unsure. In the end, a $25 donation could turn into $100 for the nonprofit.
Louis DeNicola is a freelance personal finance writer and credit enthusiast. You can find him on Twitter @is_lou.
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