How To Be Charitable Year Round

The holiday season is here, and no matter what religion or lack thereof you ascribe to, it is the time of year when many of us reflect on what we have done, what we could have done better, what we are grateful for, and hopefully how we can share that gratitude with others less fortunate. Of course, this time of year makes it easy — from food drives to telethons, toy collections to bell ringers, encouragement to give comes at every corner.

The call to give this time of year can be overwhelming, especially when on a budget. However, I find it less overwhelming and more helpful to give year round rather than go on a last minute spree at the end of the year. After all, we all have something to give, and taking the time to help shouldn’t be the result of guilt trip but come instead from our own inner consideration for others.

I have compiled a list of “giver categories” and ideas below that can help keep the charitable mood going year round, depending on the current budget and capabilities.

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The “Broke” Giver: When top ramen is a staple in the kitchen, the best thing to do is to keep the pocketbook inside the purse and donate something else: things unwanted, and time. Even when there is not a lot on hand, it is always a good thing to purge. Karmically, space is made for something even better, and of course what is trash to one can become another’s treasure. Find a reputable thrift store that gives back to the community, like Goodwill or St. Vincent de Paul, and purge your home once a quarter. Or, volunteer your time to a cause you can be passionate about. Don’t go crazy and choose too many places, just one or two where you can consistently give of your time and good nature. Remember when you volunteer your time to a charity or non-profit, you are making a commitment with a capital C.

“Have-No-Time-For-That” Giver: If you’re a 50+ hour a week go-getter, volunteering your time may make you want to cry. Exhausted and underpaid, it sometimes gets difficult to cheerlead yourself into making another time commitment, so this time of year you typically go overboard with material giving. Try this: budget monthly and set up an auto-deduction from your bank account to the cause of your choice. Whether it’s $5, $25, or $100 a month, you are doing what you can to help the world be a better place. Don’t forget to check in with your Human Resources department and inquire if your company allots for monthly community service hours. Instead of working, perhaps you can volunteer walking shelter dogs for a couple of hours a month or teach someone to read — on company time!

“I-Know-How-To” Giver: “Give a man a fish, feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime.” Education is the gift that just keeps giving. If you are skilled at something, why not share that skill as a helping hand? Twice a month commit to it, whether it is leading a yoga session once a month to abused women at a safe house for free, teaching interviewing skills at a halfway house, or building a house in Tijuana. We all have something we are good at that we can share.

The “Social” Giver: If you love playing host, talking to people, or networking, being part of an annual fundraising event might be the best place to give your time and money. Find a cause that could use some attention, and put together a committee that will annually put on a fundraising event with you. Some causes may have committees already in place that you can join. Believe me when I say that putting together an annual charity event is a big commitment. Year round, you will be collecting donations, making contacts, and streamlining the event with your fellow committee members. For that reason, make sure you are explicit about what you are able to do and give as a committee member from the beginning. It’s a lot of work, but tremendously rewarding!

“A-Little-Bit-Of-Everything” Giver: Perhaps you can do a little of it all: skip Starbucks and donate your coffee money every month; clean out the closet every season for donations; maybe you don’t have quite the amount of time to commit to putting together an event, but you are happy to volunteer and be on deck at the event.

However you choose to donate this holiday season and throughout the coming year, you will find yourself personally enriched when you open your life and time to share with others.