How to Give This Season

Instead of giving presents, some families are donating to charity.

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As I was looking around for a good Christmas gift for my husband, I asked my co-worker Sara what she planned to buy her husband.

Not much, she told me, because they decided to put the money they would have spent on each other towards charity. Through the Alexandria Department of Human Services, they found a family in need of assistance and, along with some friends, are working on fulfilling that family’s wish list.

Her generosity got me thinking about my own level of giving and whether it’s enough. I usually donate money to charity when I’m moved by specific reasons or experiences: When my friend launched a micro-loan program in Madagascar, I sponsored one of the participants. After watching Slumdog Millionaire, I found a nonprofit that works with at-risk children in India and gave money online. 

But, like many people, I lack a coherent plan that ensures I give money regularly to the causes I feel most passionately about. Perhaps it’s because, like most people in their 20s and 30s, I don’t give through a church or other religious institution. A study by the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University recently found that millennials and Generation X-ers are less likely to give for religious purposes than people born before 1945.

Whatever the method, it seems especially important to give this year, when so many people are in need. And giving doesn’t necessarily mean handing over cash, especially if you’re feeling strapped yourself. Volunteering at a hospital, making dinner for a sick person, or working in a soup kitchen are all ways to donate your resources.

If you’ve figured out how to make charity fit into your own life, please explain how and give advice to others (including me) who are trying to do the same.