The winter holiday season is fast approaching, and for many people, this means donating time and money to charitable causes. There are so many different drives and appeals for donations at this time of year that it can be difficult to know what choice to make. Read on for 5 tips on knowing how and where to donate during the holiday season.
Do your research. Not all charitable organizations are created equally. Before you donate your time and money, take some time to research. You’ll want to find an organization that supports you values and that puts the most of your money to work. It’s not uncommon for charitable organizations to hold values that might run counter to yours — a history of discrimination against LGBTQ people, for instance, or high executive salaries that mean very little of your dollars actually go to people in need. Sites like Charity Navigator can help you find organizations you’ll feel good donating to.
Think local. While national and international charities like the United Way and the Red Cross are high-profile, you are often better off donating to local agencies if you really want to help your community. Seek out local nonprofits that put your dollars to work directly in your community. Local organizations are also the best idea if you want to donate time rather than (or in addition to) money. Small local nonprofits are often run mostly by volunteers, and every extra pair of hands helps. Call or email to see if they have regular volunteer days or how you can be of most help, if you’d like to donate your time. Check to see if the organization you choose has an Amazon wishlist or otherwise has expressed what items or dollar amounts would be most helpful.
Donate money rather than goods. Sure, it feels good to donate warm blankets or socks at the holidays. And there are definitely times when donating goods is appropriate. However, for the most part, charitable organizations can do more with cash than they can with items. Food banks, for instance, can stretch your dollars much further than you can even shopping with coupons and discounts. Donating cash also allows the organization to allocate funds where they are most needed and to avoid having an excess of some items and a lack of others.
Donate quality items. If you do donate items, be sure to donate the type of items you would like to receive. Take your ratty winter coats and out of style clothes to a clothing recycler rather than donating them to a local charity. If you donate food, donate the types of things you would want to eat. People in need are, above all, still people — and especially at the holidays, they deserve as much as anyone else to receive items that are high quality and useful.
Think practically. If you choose to donate food to a food drive, think in terms of practicality. Single-serving items, cans with pop tops, and other items that can be easily opened, won’t require cold storage, and can be eaten straight out of the package are good ideas. Also consider donating gluten-free and nut-free items to food pantries — people who are food insecure often have to choose between following medically important diets and actually having enough to eat. Hair products designed for Black or otherwise textured hair are also needed at shelters and agencies that serve these populations. Menstrual hygiene products are also a need. While all these are reasons why it might be better to donate money to the agency, if you want to donate items, ask your chosen agency what items they do not receive enough of. (Little known fact: Socks are the single most requested item in homeless shelters. You must donate new, unused socks.)