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Give it Away, Give it Away Now: How to choose a Christmas charity

A few years back, my family and I got tired of the usual Yuletide* game: spending tonnes of bucks on stuff that your sister/mother/brother-in-law/grandma/dog might not even like but felt obligated to fuss over. Instead, we started to get creative. For my stepmom, for example, my sister and I bought a goat. No, not an actual goat (though that might help with some of the Christmas cleanup) but rather a goat that went to a family in Africa. It’s a program through Oxfam, and it’s a great way to see a charitable donation practically applied. Plus, we were safe in the knowledge that our money might actually make a difference, as opposed to just giving us a bunch of stuff we didn’t need.

Serious business, I know. But charity is important, so it should be taken seriously. And, having worked for a few charities in my time, I know that you need to do your homework. If you and your family want to donate money (or otherwise) this Christmas, great! My family loves it, and it’s fast becoming a tradition. But be careful to read up on your charity of choice and keep a few things in mind:

1) Do they do what they say they do?

In the case of the Oxfam goat, some digging and reading showed us that it might not be what it claimed, at least not exactly. We saw some fine print that said that our goat might become a calf, a lamb, or otherwise, depending on the needs of the particular family/region/etc. that our donation went to. After speaking to an Oxfam rep, we found out that no matter what, the family would get an animal that could feed them for a long time. So we decided it was good for us, and we proceeded from there.

Related to this is the idea of intent: is the charity’s intent to do good for the sake of good, or do that have ulterior motives? If they do, are these motives you can get behind? I stopped giving to the Salvation Army recently because I found out that some of their religious positions didn’t align with my personal feelings. Research is key.

2) Money changes everything.

If you’re going to give a cash donation, the wisest thing you can do is investigate what percentage of your money is going to the cause. Charities MUST be able to answer this question, and a good charity shouldn’t be spending more than 15% on their administrative costs. They should also be able to tell you where exactly your money is going, and to provide proof. Don’t be fooled—even very well-presented charities can be shifty. Most definitely ask for their Charitable Business Number, and check it. Read, call, and ask people you know who’ve given to them.

3) Think outside the box.

The traditional model for giving is to hand over your money or your used clothes/books/what have you to a charity you feel affinity for. But in the contemporary era, when giving money is sometimes as easy as texting a five-digit code, some of the true connection to the cause can be lost. I like it when you can regain that connection.

Recently, some local friends of mine held a “Time Raiser” leading up to our civic election. This event was genius, because it combined a silent auction with super cool items (including classes and art) and a fundraiser, minus funds. People instead donated volunteer time for the election, and the highest time-bidder got to take home a sweet item. Later, during the election, they could dole out their time as they saw fit, volunteering for the party in question. This kind of charity is both unique and hands on, and I encourage you to think similarly this holiday season!

Above all, give where and when you feel is right. My family and I change it up every year, which allows us to talk about what we think is important and where we’d like our hard-earned money (or time) to go. It’s awesome, and it makes the Christmas season feel like it’s about love and giving above all else.

*I use Christmas in this article because that’s what my family celebrates. But please feel free to substitute whichever holiday you and yours celebrate, and I hope it’s a happy one!

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