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What kind sentiments you express! Something that I would like to point out is that often people are in the pattern of thinking that money is the only way to contribute to charity. I suggest giving a gift of TIME when funds are short. Having grown up in a family that runs a non-profit organization, I know all about the constant need to fundraise. Sure, the money's a big help, but I also know that some of the most helpful and meaningful gifts come in the form of time given to help.

I encourage everyone who is inclined to be creative... think of the skills you have... think of the resources you have available to you (i.e. car, flexible schedule, knowledge of a subject, etc.) ... and use these to help people who could really benefit. There is never a shortage of worthy organizations to help, and sometimes the things they need help with are not things you would normally think of, i.e. maintenance, painting, stuffing envelopes for bulk mailings, driving people here and there, cooking, cleaning, writing, gardening/landscape work, maintaining computer systems/databases - things that most of us know how to do. Here are just some ideas I thought of... Offer to help paint at an organization/group home/battered women's shelter; drive residents of group homes to doctors' appointments; go with battered women to their legal hearings to show your support; if you're in a position to bid on a contract job with a charity, offer some sort of matching deal (i.e. you pay me for the whole job and I'll donate back __% or I'll work for __ amount of time at my usual rate and everything over that will be free, etc.) - this can be beneficial for your taxes as well; read books to kids at the local library or help with their adult literacy programs; teach English as a second language; tutor kids at a local school or group home; if you have a special skill, i.e. mechanics, plumbing, electrical work, etc. volunteer to help fix things for a local organization, or volunteer to help build low-income housing; help recondition old bicycles for people to use again; collect old glasses frames to donate; recondition old computers to be used; install a new computer/phone system that is more efficient and allows employees to do their jobs better/easier/faster; help with a community gardening project; maintain a database for fundraising purposes; become a health educator; write a grant for a non-profit to fill a need they have; encourage your company to donate old office equipment/furniture/computers to a good cause; write fundraising letters/contact local businesses on behalf of a charity; remember that low-income families are not only in need of food/clothes/toys during the holidays when all of the drives happen - help work on any of these causes during the year; if you play an instrument or sing or have a special performance talent, go perform at a local home for elderly people; raise a guide dog puppy; teach kids some skill you have, i.e. music, singing, sports, etc.; help an environmental group clean some place up, plant trees, etc.; cook/serve at a homeless shelter; drive meals to homebound people; become a mentor; work on a political campaign you believe in... oh, my goodness, this is getting really long... this is just a list I though of while I was sitting here. There are so many more ideas!

Another idea (that I've taken myself up on this year) is to think of when you will be giving gifts anyway during the year, Christmas, Birthdays, etc. and give money in your loved ones' names to charity. Christmas gift-buying totally bums me out - except for buying for the kids in my life, which is always fun. But for adults, I just feel like it's a waste - we have everything we need, and continually buy the things for ourselves that we need throughout the year. This is definitely the age of instant gratification! Ask me after Christmas how this plan worked, but so far I feel much better about it than buying expensive gifts that will be forgotten about shortly after opening. I got everyone on my list a small gift and then donated to a charity in each of their names. I tried to keep the charities specific to things that each of my loved ones like... being in the business of running a non-profit, my family tends to be pretty in touch with other charities, so it's not hard to pick ones I know they will like.

On a last note, if you do decide to give a gift of time, please do try to follow through with your commitment. Nothing feels worse than having someone breeze through with lots of promises, never to be heard from again. On the other hand, we are always receiving positive feedback from people who have volunteered at our particular non-profit about how much the experience has enriched their lives. I know that it enriches mine... there are lots of fantastic opportunities out there. I encourage everyone to go check it out!

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