Tis the season for charitable giving. From the red Salvation Army kettles manned by bell ringers that greet you at the entrance of just about every big box store, shopping mall, or supermarket to the food and clothing donation boxes in workplace lobbies and (gasp!) old fashioned snail mail pleas that arrive in the mailbox, it appears that everyone is asking for assistance these days. Is it the onset of colder temperatures, the holiday season when people realize just how fortunate they are, or even the last minute push to have increased tax write offs that makes people open up their wallets, pantries, and closets? But does it even matter what inspires someone to give? And if there is one thing you can say about Americans, it is that when asked, we donate. We may be a mass consumerism driven society but when asked to open our wallets and hearts to help the less fortunate, we do so at a greater rate than the rest of the world. In 2012 alone, Americans donated $316.23 billion dollars, or 2% of the GDP to charity. Now that's a lot of donations.
And now, holiday charity even has its own day. Today has been dubbed Giving Tuesday. Currently in its second year, today has been designated as a national day of giving. In many respects today is a non-profit organization's answer to retail's Black Friday and the Internet's Cyber-Monday as it encourages individuals to make charitable donations to worthy not-for-profit causes. But you don't, and shouldn't, have to wait until December to give since donations are needed year around. And not all donations need to be monetary in nature. For some organizations, the gift of your time to help man a hot line, cook a hot meal, or make repairs to a leaky roof may be even more valuable than cash. Other organizations might benefit more from the cash or in-kind donations of food or clothing. Regardless of what you donate however, it is important that what you give would actually be of use to the receiving organization. As someone who has organized more than my share of charity drives, it disheartens me when I see torn or ripped clothing being donated to a homeless shelter or expired food donated to a pantry. Donations should help the benefactors, not demean them or impose additional burdens on them.
One of the dilemmas is often identifying a cause to donate to since there are so many worthy ones out there with the overall need greatly exceeding the supply. This time of year one of my all time favorite causes is the U.S. Marine Corps' Toys for Tots campaign. This annual campaign is organized by U.S. Marines stationed all over the world and provides holiday gifts to children who would otherwise not receive any. I make it a point of donating to their toy drive every year regardless of where I am living and I've also worked for not-for-profit organizations that have benefited from the generosity of the Marines and their donors. I've seen first hand the joy a single wrapped gift can bring to an underprivileged child. But Toys for Tots isn't the only organization around looking for assistance this holiday season. There are plenty of national organizations looking for donations but chances are that locally based ones right in your own town are looking for help as well.
So on this Giving Tuesday, it doesn't matter where or what you give, just do it. If you need some ideas as to where to start, check these out: