Gift Giving: Charitable Causes

image If actual physical gifts are not your cup of tea this year, you always have the option of charitable donations in honor of someone, anyone, or everyone. Charities are feeling the pinch as much as anyone in a tight economy, so every tiny bit helps.

So while I’ve been doing goofy, silly, and ridiculously bizarre gift ideas, I also wanted to feature a few charitable organizations that I like, and ask which ones you direct donations toward. As Newark Mayor Cory Booker said on the Rachel Maddow show last April, too often we allow our inability to do everything undermine our ability to do something. Every little bit helps, even if it’s a tiny little bit!

I’ve given gifts of animal donations to Heifer International – which allows you to print out a greeting card to go with your gift to let the recipient know of the donation. I’ve also given to the American Jewish World Service (worth visiting the site just to see their video by Judd Apatow) and Feeding America this year.

I’ve also donated to First Book, and to Reading is Fundamental.

Plus, you can always look up the score of a charitable organization that you like on Charity Navigator to see how their money is spent, or find a new organization with high scores to give to.

So what organizations reach you? Which do you donate to? I’m always looking for more good folks doing good work so when I can donate, even a little bit, I have lots of options.

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  1. For those in the UK, there’s Oxfam Unwrapped. Save the Children, CAFOD and the PDSA do something similar, as do Greenpeace.

  2. tracykitn says:

    I’ve always tried to do something for St. Jude’s, because I have a dear friend from HS who was there as a child (well before I ever met him!) and another friend’s 3YO son was there until just recently (in remission, currently, thank goodness!) But truthfully, I prefer to give through fundraisers at my kids’ schools, like the St. Jude’s Math-a-thon, or the Jump Rope for Heart event, or whatever else they raise money for this year.

  3. Sarah W says:

    I have a special place in my heart for Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, which provides a free monthly book to children under the age of five.  Hear me out:

    I helped with the sign-ups in our area a few years back at the Y, food pantries, churches, and assistance distribution centers.  All that is needed is a birthdate and an address.

    A few months later, I started seeing the families in the library.

    Some of them told me the Imagination books were the first ones their kids had ever owned, or were likely to own—-food and shelter took priority over extras.  But the kids were so excited.  About books.

    One of them said, “His teachers couldn’t get him to read—-now he reads everything.  He brings his books to show and tell.”

    So they decided to take the time to visit the library, because the kids couldn’t wait for another book and the parents figured they should start taking advantage of our services. 

    I don’t know about their expenses or overhead or percentages.  I just know this program has an effect.  You can donate money or time.

  4. Nadia says:

    That sounds like a cool program, Sarah W.

    Through the two kiddos, I get hit up left and right for schools, extracurriculars, and service projects.  We also throw a little money at our alma maters for scholarship funds, and have memberships that go largely unused these days at the local science and art museums.  I’m a sucker for a breast cancer fundraiser, as my mom is a longtime survivor, so I’m always sponsoring Race for the Cure or 3-Day walkers.  And every now and then Planned Parenthood catches me on an angry news day, LOL. 

    But my favorite thing is clearing out my piles of non-keeper books and giving them to the library.  Sell ‘em or shelve ‘em as they see fit, but at least they’ve got that little extra in this time of severe budget cuts.

  5. KCfla says:

    As my family hasn’t been cash-heavy the last couple of years due to various health issues, I’ve been doing my donations by way of actual item donations.
    1- The canned/boxed foods I buy for Hurricane season every year go to the local food banks.
    2- Various items to my son’s band rummage sale ( rather than my own personal garage sale). Also any of our old but gently used clothes to the local homeless shelter.
    3- As Nadia does above- my non-keeper books to the library.  They love me down there, since I give them probably 2 paper grocery bags full every 2 months or so. About 1/3 make it on to the shelves, and the rest are sold for funds. No waste, no fuss, and it keeps one of my favorite places going.!

  6. valor says:

    This year, my sister and I donated to the World Wildlife Fund in our sister-in-law’s name, and she got a stuffed animal (we were going to get her a bucket o’ frogs, but they had run out of buckets, so we went with a koala.).

  7. joanne says:

    Our local SPCA, which offers low cost neutering for pets, no matter where you get them. They also try incredibly hard not to put any animals down. And the fire department on the corner since it’s all volunteer.

    My husband sends to disabled vets (I don’t have a link) and we both try to send something if there is a plea in the local paper for whatever tragedy has struck someone near by.

    It never feels like enough but we do what we can and hope it helps.
    Thanks Sarah

  8. jrho says:

    I would recommend Child’s Play. You choose a children’s hospital from the map, and it takes you to their Amazon wishlist of toys, games, and movies for the patients there. Whatever you buy from the wishlist gets shipped directly to the hospital.

  9. Tabithaz says:

    Too many people in my life have suffered from cancer, so come the holidays I always give to the Livestrong Foundation, either in honor of the survivors or in memory of those I lost.

  10. jody says:

    The last couple of years, I’ve been making a contribution to

    They send care packages to entire units in comfortless and remote areas of Iraq and Afghanistan, including things like golf clubs and balls (golf has become a popular pastime in the desert), DVD players with discs, favorite brands of snacks and personal hygiene items, and of course, books.  Donations are tax deductable, and, even if your charity dollars go elsewhere, the thank-you letters published on the website provide an eye-opening glimpses into what life is like for these kids, as well as make you incredibly proud.

    Sarah W and Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library sounds just awesome.  Wow.  What a cool, cool project.  Now I’m torn.

    And. of course, any organization that takes care of kitties and doggies has my heart.  And some dollars.


  11. Terry Odell says:

    I tried leaving a brilliantly written comment, but I got error messages (perhaps because I tried to link to the charities I was talking about.)

    In a nutshell: Team in Training raises money for the Leukemia Lymphoma Society, and my daughter took up triathlons to help raise money.

    My other favorite is Adult Literacy. Find a program near you, and either volunteer or write them a check. The number of adults who lack functional literacy skills is appalling.  Google ProLiteracy.

    Hope this comes through.

    Terry’s Place
    Romance with a Twist—of Mystery

  12. Leeann Burke says:

    I donate to a lot of different charities. Some of the local ones to me are my local food bank (I make sure to donate items each week), CHEO (Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario), Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation and United Way. I also donate to international organization such as Oxfam and American Breast Cancer Foundation (

  13. Hannah says:

    There are some great ideas here! I love giving gift certificates to Heifer International and Kiva. Gift certificates for Kiva loans are especially fun for the recipient, I think.

  14. Sybylla says:

    I give some each month…a little bit to my local NPR station and the rest divided between Heifer International (I remember explaining it to my husband as “hunger relief of the teach-a-man-to-fish variety”) and Doctors without Borders.  I like the monthly approach for a few reasons: it cuts down on the need for fundraising because the charity knows it has something coming in; I don’t have to worry that I’ll forget, because it’s charged automatically to my credit card; and it’s easier (for me) to budget for it as a monthly expense rather than to try and fit it in with the hell that is holiday shopping.

  15. Karenmc says:

    We have our annual food drive at work, and Habitat for Humanity is a great place to give (funds or time). Last year I closed out a credit card that had some air miles on it, which I gave to the USO to help a service person get home. Another great organization is Mercy Corp; their medical teams go anywhere in the world that needs them.

  16. SandyH says:

    I always give to local food banks (monthly basis). I have supported Bread for the World for years. This is not a charity but what it does is lobby the American Congress to see that bills for feeding the hungry are passed such as the WIC program, school lunches, international hunger aid.

  17. Alpha Lyra says:

    I particularly enjoy giving to Kiva, because it’s microlending and that means most of the time I eventually get the money back. So I get to lend it out to new people the following year! I always pick female recipients since I think empowering women is the most effective way to aid a developing nation.

  18. I am donating 50% of my reported royalties in November and December to the Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation. They help kids be band geeks and orchestra nerds, basically—but to be less flip, the aim is to help kids whose schools can’t afford a good band/orchestra program.

    It ties in to some kooky fun I’ve been having at my blog every year, tied into Hanukkah. This is the first year I took the event off the blog and into real life.

  19. The USO cares for military personnel and their families around the world,

    through airport luunges, on base outreach centers, traveling MWR shows, and overseas locations, including hostile areas.

  20. Alpha Lyra says:

    Another organization I haven’t donated to yet but want to is Women for Women International:

    Basically, you sponsor a woman in a war-torn country to help her rebuild her life. I like the idea of helping individuals directly rather than sending money off into a void somewhere and not knowing how it is ultimately spent. The monthly commitment ($27/mon) scared me off last year, especially in the down economy, but I think I’m going to try it this year.

  21. bookstorecat says:

    If you visit a local Barnes & Noble anytime before Christmas, you can purchase one of your favorite children’s books and they will get it to a needy child through a local literacy organization. At the same time, BN will donate a % of any $ they make to whichever organization is holding a “bookfair” when you shop—and all you have to do is say “This is for the bookfair.” Chances are, there will be one going on, and volunteers from the organization will probably be in store to wrap any gifts you buy for even a minimal donation.

  22. Anna says:

    Why isn’t SBTB discussing the censorship going on at Amazon? I thought you guys were all about freedom of speech.

  23. duckgirlie says:

    Charity Navigator is useful, but make sure you do some other checking into whatever charity, because the metric they use is somewhat limited. It’s based pretty much on a straight money in -> money given viewpoint, which doesn’t take into account how different charities have different admin costs based on what they’re mission is and how big they are.

  24. I’m all about the animals, so friends and family receive donations in their names to the ASPCA and the Seattle Animal Shelter .

    And this year, for my editor and agent, I donated to the New York Public Library Libra.ries need us now more than ever, and I especially liked that it was a local charity for both.

    Thanks for giving us the opportunity to highlight such important work!

  25. BillieB says:

    Having just finished reading an ARC of Conor Grennan’s ‘Little Princes’ (pubbing in February), I’m hoping to be able to donate to Next Generation Nepal, his organization to help victims of child trafficking in Nepal. We’ll see what’s left after gifting the niece and nephew.

  26. Beth says:

    This year we gave to World Vision.

    But speaking of charity awesomeness…
    The Project for Awesome (#p4a) on YouTube begins Dec. 17th! It’s coordinated by the Vlogbrothers and Other Prominent Nerdfighters. It’s a way to try to take over YouTube so that the most viewed videos are videos promoting charities.

  27. Tamara Hogan says:

    We donate to Doctors Without Borders, Reading Is Fundamental, and are Minnesota Public Radio sustaining members.

    I also donate gently-read romance novels to area hospitals.

  28. kkw says:

    I cannot say enough good things about New York Cares, if you’re local you should really check it out, and I think they have affiliated programs in other cities.  It’s the easiest way ever to volunteer, and they work with thousands of charities, so there’s something for everyone.  That said, my favorite that I’ve run across so far is GallopNYC (again, the program exists elsewhere but I know the New York office is well-run and awesome) where they teach autistic kids to horseback ride, and they also have a horses for heros program for disabled vets.  It’s amazing the difference they make, it’s something you just have to see to believe.  I have heard from friends who work in non-profit that a lot of the bigger organizations, red cross, oxfam, salvation army, aspca what have you, have so much infrastructure that a relatively small percentage of the money you donate makes it to the needy, and you’re better off giving to, say, a local soup kitchen.  I don’t know if that’s true, but if you’re looking for one in NYC, All Souls Church on Lex in the upper east side has a stellar monday night hospitality program.  As far as animal welfare goes, BARC, a no-kill shelter in Williamsburgh does great work, and could sure use the money.  And for literacy, the library has some really amazing programs, lots with kids of course, but also with adults, including delivering books to prisoners.

  29. Linsalot says:

    I give monthly donations to Green Peace, The Red Cross and Sick Kids (Toronto Hospital) and always give a dollar or two at Chapter/Indigo to thier Love of Reading Foundation when I buy books.
    I am also a volunteer and think that if you can’t donate money then donating your time makes just as much a difference and can be an even more fulfilling experience that writing a cheque or giving cash.

  30. Deb Kinnard says:

    Habitat for Humanity. I couldn’t agree more strongly with their goals and their work. Also the Salvation Army, who so many times are right after the first responders when any crisis hits.

  31. Donna says:

    We’re big fans of the Heifer International ( )
    My guild makes a quilt for their auction every year, and nothing says Christmas like giving someone a goose… (ya pervs)… or chickens, or a goat. The gifts that keep giving for a person or a community.

    And @Anna? Because right now we’re talking about charity.

  32. I’ve “bought animals” and other things (like cozy mitts to colder countries) to be sent overseas through the Plan Canada and World Vision gift shops. At my Christmas dinner party, I also collect money – last year we sent a goat overseas!

  33. Cat Marsters says:

    I made a donation a week or so ago on behalf of my mother to the RSPCA as she literally weeps over animal charity ads and she spends most of her pension on donations to animal charities. Having adopted four pets from charities over the years, I fully support them and only wish they had some kind of card I could print out for my mum to give her at Christmas (because you know, tears are always welcome on Christmas Day).

    A few years ago I donated all my December royalties to Cats Protection, but it seemed my readers didn’t like cats since I had to pad the cheque out to keep it from humiliating levels. Me, I love the Cats Protection League; without them I’d be without my Gorgeous Boy, Spike (who my mother considers her grandkitten).

  34. zinemama says:

    I am very thankful I got to choose when – and when not – to have children.  I give to Planned Parenthood so other women can afford to make those choices, too. (Plus, PP took excellent care of my uninsured hey-nonny-nonny when I was out of a job.)

    I’m also a supporter of the Halo Trust, which works clearing land mines

  35. Ebradmon says:

    I love this! What a great idea.

    Here is where my family gives:  (we like to buy pigs!)

    I have built two homes in Cambodia with Tabitha, and while Tabitha is very active in Singapore, Canada, and Austria it’s nice to see the USA getting into it!

    (Tabitha USA is working really hard at getting ranked in the on-line charity sites; it’s a small but powerful charity, if not listed keep watching, they will be soon!)

    If anyone wants to know where to buy Tabitha Cambodia silk here in the USA try:
    (Entwine is for profit – but Entwined buys directly from Tabitha as the USA branch does not have away to sell the silk.)


  36. DiscoDollyDeb says:

    My father, who is now is his mid-70s and grew up in great poverty, always says that if it hadn’t been for the Salvation Army he would never have had a Christmas present as a child.  It may be kinda old school (and I know there’s a religious element that some might not be comfortable with), but the S.A. does do good works, especially around this time of year.  So, don’t complain about the bell ringers—and put a little extra in the kettle this year.

    Our family also donates to the Smile Train, an organization that provides facial surgery for children in third-world countries.  In many places, children with cleft-palates and other facial disfigurements are considered cursed and are not allowed to attend school or even go out in public.  Cleft-palates are usually easily repaired—if facilities and medical personnel are available.  A few years ago, a movie called “Smile Pinki” won the Academy Award for best documentary; it’s about a young girl whose life was changed when Smile Train was able to repair her cleft-palate.  I strongly recommend watching it—and keep the kleenex handy!

  37. Amanda in Baltimore says:

    I’ve donated to Smile Train, the USO, the Humane Society of the United States, the ASPCA, the Cocker Spaniel Adoption Center, and UMCOR, the United Methodist Committee on Relief. I make a monthly donation to Medecin sans Frontiere/Doctors Without Borders.

    I heard a story on NPR this week about how giving makes us feel good. It sets off serotonin release in the brain. It also helps me when I feel depressed, because it makes me feel like I am doing SOMETHING to improve the things that bother me about the world.

  38. Donna says:

    @DiscoDolly – I never pass a bell ringer without dropping some bills. They do wonderful work. I never pass a vet selling poppies either – OK, so the vet is usually my dad, but still.

  39. kari says:

    Your local elementary school librarian could use donations to purchase extra books during the Scholastic Book Fair. 

    Scholastic’s One for Books program matches those funds with book donations to three national non-profits.

    By the way, why not ask your local elementary if you can volunteer as a lunch buddy?  It just takes one lunch hour a week – no experience or skills required – and the payoff is awesome!

  40. LisaJo says:

    I donate monthly to the non-profit theater company I work for because I love it and public arts are sadly underfunded. Also, because I have type 1 diabetes since 1990, I donate to the JDRF ( so that one day I can be cured! Hopefully before my pancreas gives out.

    Now I have many new donation ideas!

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