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Charitable Giving in Place of Gift Receiving

By Samantha-Rae Tuthill, AccuWeather.com Staff Writer
November 23, 2012; 1:20 PM

The holiday season is marked by many things for many people. For some, it's a time for family. For some, the focus is religious. And for most, this time of year is marked by "the spirit of the season," the idea that it's better to give than to receive, and an attitude of cheer and good will towards other people.

So it's not surprising that many people chose to donate to charities this time of year. Families collect canned goods at Thanksgiving get-togethers, people may ask for money to be given to a certain cause instead of receiving Christmas or Hanukkah gifts. We've all seen that familiar red bucket sitting outside of department stores accompanied by a bell ringer in a Santa hat.

Toys for Tots is a seasonal charity that meets all 20 of the Better Business Bureau's Standards for Charity Accountability. Photo by pennstatelive

Some studies have shown that as much as 50 percent of charitable giving is done from November to January. There are thousands and thousands of local, national and global charities that need your help and there are many ways for you to get involved. It can be a seasonal cause, like collecting gifts for under-privileged children, or an on-going fight, like giving money for researching a disease that has impacted someone you love. Whether your gift is a material item, your time or your money, why not use this season to find an organization you want to be part of to help those in need? If you're looking for a cause to get involved in, there are resources available to help you find exactly which one you'd like to support.

The Sierra Club Foundation has spent over 50 years as a nonprofit organization working to help restore the environment. Among their projects, they advocate alternative energy sources, restoring wildlife habitats and protecting America's water supplies. They also have programs for helping veteran's and their families Military Families and Veterans Outdoors Initiative.

The Conservation Fund is another organization that works to preserve land an wildlife. Their goal is to find a middle ground between the opposing sides of conservation, bridging the gap that many see between environmental protection and economic advancement. They focus on projects that have both environmental and economic benefits.

Many programs are also in place for "adopting" or sponsoring animals. The Oceanic Society, for example, provides the opportunity to adopt dolphins. The World Wildlife Fund offers a variety of species for adoption, from tigers to sea otters to honey badgers and komodo dragons, people can pay to sponsor an animal in their or someone else's name. This symbolic sponsorship uses the money you donate to provide assistance to programs set up to specially help the species you chose.

Adopting an animal in someone's name for Christmas, like this Tasmanian devil, includes a certificate of your "adoption", a photo of the animal, and depending on the level of your donation, other gifts, including a plush toy of the species you chose. Photo courtesy of the World Wildlife Fund.

Following the devastation brought by hurricane Sandy the American Red Cross is also in need of donations right now. Donations can help those who are affected by natural disasters and rely on emergency shelters, food, and medical care provided by the Red Cross. Blood donations are also critically needed as a result of Sandy.

One of the easiest ways to donate around the holidays is to clean your closet. One Warm Coat is an organization of volunteers who host coat drives to collect people's old winter jackets to give them to people in need for the cold weather months. Their site provides the information for people anywhere in the country to host their own drive, or to provide the location of an existing drive if you should want to find a place to drop off clothes that you don't intend to wear anymore. There are also Goodwill organizations and many community centers and churches in your town who will be collecting clothes for those in need this time of year.

Many people may not know is what the organizations behind their favorite charities stand for, or where their contributions go. Charity scams are so common that the Federal Trade Commission provides a number of resources for avoiding falling victim to one. The sad fact is many people will make vague claims about collecting money "for the troops" for their own benefit and not for the cause they are claiming to support. It's okay to ask for credentials when people solicit you for money. If you haven't heard of the organization they claim to represent, you can ask them for their contact information so that you can make a donation if you're satisfied with the information your research provides. If a volunteer tries to argue this with you, they may not be legitimate. Anyone wary to give out organization information or to let you look into their business may have something to hide. And most charities will not want to bully people into donating; they want you to feel secure about what you are giving and should welcome your interest in knowing more about them.

It's not always as simple as just sticking to large, well-known organizations. Some well-known organizations may not use your donations in a way that you want, either spending more on their own salaries than on the cause, or supporting side projects that don't align with your personal views. Conducting your own research on an organization is incredibly important before you chose to give your money to them.

This time of year is a great time to think of others, but it's important to remember that people are in need year round. Soup kitchens will always need donations, not just for holiday meals. If you find a cause you deeply believe in, sign up for mailing lists so you can know the ways you can stay involved all year long. This list contains the charities that the Better Business Bureau has reports on to help you determine which organizations will best fit what you want to support. You can search specific causes and see lists of organizations that support that cause, then read the BBB report to see if they meet the Standards for Charity Accountability.

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