Holiday Opportunities to Give Back

posted by Andrea | 11/14/2013

holiday opportunities to give back

Christmas is less than 6 weeks away — the holiday season is definitely in full swing!

However, even if I didn’t have a calendar and I never stepped foot into a store, I could still tell you we were getting close to Christmas based on the amount of donation and volunteer requests we’ve been getting.

I’m not annoyed — I realize this is the busiest time of year for non-profit organizations, but it does get overwhelming when we try to decide what organizations we will divvy up our time and money to help support.

I realize that many people like to “give as they feel led” and while I think that’s great, I personally feel like I have to have some sort of plan in place before the holiday season starts — otherwise I end up feeling guilty that we can’t give to everything or wondering if we should have given more.

So in an effort to jump-start the generous spirit of the holiday season, I thought I’d share some of my thoughts about holiday giving along with a few ways we can all give back this season.

I’d also love to hear some of your favorite ways to give back — both during the holiday season and all year long.


photo source

Create a Giving Budget

At the beginning of each New Year, Dave and I usually take a few minutes to decide on our “giving budget” for the following year. How much do we want to give to church, to his school, to any other specific organizations, and how much do we want to “reserve” for all the extra opportunities to give that arise throughout the course of the year (especially this time of year).

I think two key factors in creating a giving budget are:

1. It needs to be written down

2. It needs to be broken down into monthly increments so you know how much to put aside each month

Then, throughout the year, when you get various donation requests, you can revisit this budget and decide #1: if this request is in your budget, and #2: if it’s something you feel called to give to. If the answers are “no”, then just simply explain that you’ll keep this organization in mind for next year.

NOTE: This same technique also works really well when it comes to giving of your time. Simply pick the groups and organizations that mean something to you, decide how much time you can realistically allocate for volunteer work, and then don’t feel bad saying no to ALL the other requests you get.

Don’t give out of guilt!

For me, there’s nothing worse than giving out of guilt… so by having a plan in place, we are able to give willingly to the organizations we choose (and a few extras as we feel led) and not feel guilty saying no to the rest.

In my opinion, if you say “yes” to every monetary and volunteer request you get (because you feel pressured or guilty) you’re ultimately saying “no” to a whole bunch of other things — like quality time with your family, some much needed rest, or climbing out from your credit card debt (and the stress that probably accompanies this debt).

Please know that I’m not trying to discourage you from giving in general, I just know from experience that giving out of guilt is not enjoyable — especially when I’m forgoing time with my family or other important goals to do so.

salvation army food pantry

photo source

A Few Ideas to Give Back

Operation Christmas Child:

Do you have a shoe box, some extra toiletries, and a few small toys? I love how simple Samaritan’s Purse makes it for anyone to give back to a child who may not receive any gifts this year.

Kid’s Food Basket:

This is an amazing program in West Michigan that offers meals to hundreds of needy children. I had the opportunity to volunteer with Kid’s Food Basket a couple years ago and can attest to the huge volume of food they give away EVERY DAY! I realize this program is just in West Michigan, but I’m guessing there are similar programs in your area so pick one and schedule a time for your family, friends, or coworkers to give back.

Cards that Give:

Cards that Give is a website that allows you to purchase holiday cards from select non-profit organizations, so you can stock up on all your holiday cards while supporting a great organization!

The “Home T”:

Personally, I just think these t-shirts are super cool and would make awesome gifts for anyone who has recently moved, anyone going off to college (or in college), or anyone who just really likes super soft t-shirts. They aren’t necessarily a traditional way of giving back (they give a portion of sales to Multiple Sclerosis research) but it’s still a neat opportunity to give a little while getting a great gift.

Here’s a link to the post I wrote about The Home T last year.

Do a Random Act of Kindness:

It’s crazy how contagious these acts of kindness can be — and they don’t need to cost you a thing! Here’s a blog post from a fellow reader who is taking a random act kindness challenge ALL YEAR LONG! She has some awesome ideas for simple, frugal random acts of kindness that can make a big impact on those around you.

The Mary Madeline Project:

This is a really cool non-profit that takes donated wedding dresses and makes teeny tiny burial outfits for stillborn babies. I know there are tons of these types of organizations out there — feel free to leave links to others in the comments.

Oh, and if you’re looking for other ways to re-purpose a wedding dress, read this post.

Better Life Bags:

These bags are SO cute — anyone I know would love to have one of them. Better Life Bags are made by women in very low-income areas (based out of Detroit, MI) who would otherwise be unemployed — plus a percentage of all profits go to help support entrepreneurs in developing countries. You can learn more here.

A Few More Ideas

  • Pick an angel off the Angel Tree in the mall
  • Donate a book (or 10) to your local library
  • Donate a few toys to your child’s nursery, daycare, church, etc.
  • Bake some delicious treats for your friends, family, neighbors, coworkers, or for the community bake sale
  • Bring bags of non-perishable food to a local food pantry
  • Sponsor a Thanksgiving or Christmas meal for a family in need (we ALWAYS get these requests in the mail)
  • Sponsor an entire family and purchase gifts for all their children
  • Volunteer at a local soup kitchen or homeless shelter
  • Get a group of friends or family together and sing Christmas carols at a local hospital or nursing home
  • Bring several bunches of flowers or balloons to a variety of chronically sick people in the hospital
  • Buy something from every kids who comes selling door to door — I guarantee you’ll make their day!
  • Spend time with an elderly grandparent, aunt, or neighbor — even just a few minutes could really make them feel appreciated
  • Buy Ann Voskamp’s book “One Thousand Gifts”. Read it, then gift it to a friend and count your many blessings
  • Help out a mom with a new baby (or with any number of kids) for the afternoon
  • Support a local (or global) disaster relief organization
  • Give to a missionary or other religious type organization — Dave and I have frequently given to World Renew

And one more link to the post I wrote about giving Charitable Donations as clutter-free Christmas gifts!

Obviously there are many, MANY ways you can give of your time and money throughout the entire year… so I’d love to know:

What are your favorite ways to give back?

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Leave a comment


  1. Amanda


    I’ve got 3 Operation Christmas Child boxes sitting by the door to drop off at church as we speak, plus our bible study gathered more supplies, and as a group filled 5 more – great organization.

    I’m part of a Mom’s group, and we’re doing 2 projects this Christmas – the first is that we’re “adopting” a family through a local children’s hospital. We’ve yet to be assigned one, but we also have worked with them in years past. One of the mom’s in our group had 2 babies in their NICU, and the staff was fantastic, and caring and really do everything they can for their patients, but some of those families are struggling w/ children w/ long term illnesses and the time and financial resources that takes. So we adopt a family (or 2 depending on size), and make sure that they get a “proper” Christmas. It’s just one less thing for those parents to need to worry about.

    This year, we’re also volunteering at an organization that is to help mom’s with kids who would otherwise be homeless. We’re bringing and serving a meal and they also have a list of needs (basic toiletries and stuff for the moms and babies), but we’re also getting a few “extras” for these mom’s and kids who are trying to get back on their feet.

    As a general rule, we have a certain amount of money every year that is set aside for charitable giving in our budget. We have a few things that are annual (my MIL always does a life walk in Oct for instance, so that’s something we know we’re supporting every year), then as we get requests for various things, we determine if we support whatever the cause/mission is, and if there is room in the budget to include it. We feel like our money belongs to God, so the least we can do is honor him by using some of it towards helping others, especially those less fortunate or those who are helping others with Kingdom focused work.


  2. Leanne


    Our local church sponsors at church service at one of the local nursing homes about every 6 weeks. We’ve been helping with that since our boys were VERY little. They help pass out hymnals, open the pages of books, and sit by the residents to ask them about THEIR lives… in today’s over indulgent society, it is a great way to teach them how to love people who have nothing to give back, except maybe a smile and a thank you (and some can’t even do that)… Now that we homeschool, we take the boys twice a month, and they put on a little “show” piano and singing and just interacting with the different older people! it has been teaching them so much and they really look forward to going! watching their enthusiasm for serving is the best gift I could ever get!


  3. gayle


    This year I turned 40. As a way to celebrate, I chose to donate my time to 40 organizations in 2013. Here is a link to my blog that documents the journey. I finished #38 last night leaving only two to go. What a year this has been 🙂


  4. Jilly


    So many excellent ideas. Thank you so much, Andrea, for writing about this. I always find inspiration and humor here, but it is these posts that really mean something to me and help me feel connected.


  5. Jenni


    Prepare to spit up your coffee on the computer.

    We don’t give during the month of December.

    In my experience with the women’s shelter program and my hubby’s experience in volunteer medicine, most charitable organizations are seriously lacking during the other times of year. Holiday giving is a WONDERFUL tradition, but we choose to gift our time and money during the rest of the year. January to mid November, my husband works in a free clinic and I do domestic violence counseling. This is also when we make our financial contributions. During December, we take extra time with the kids, travel, etc. This yearly sabbatical allows us to focus our energy on really connecting as a family.


    Andrea Reply:

    This is an awesome idea Jenni — something I’ve honestly never thought of before… but I like it!

    Thanks for sharing!


  6. Habby


    I purchase animals from Heifer International in honor of the person I am buying a gift for. They have beautiful cards they give you for this purpose for every $10 donation. Especially good gift for kids because you can include info on the animal and how it will help a poor family. A few years ago, I started setting up a table at my church one Sunday around the holidays so people could make their donation and get the cards right then. It has been wonderful. Heifer will send you everything you need! We call it Alternative Giving. The Heifer website is


  7. Debbie


    My husband and I decided early on in our marriage that instead of spending money to buy “obligatory” gifts for each other at Christmas (often times we buy things for ourselves or don’t necessarily want anything at Christmas) we would spend the money on “gifts” for developing countries. Around this time of year, we get catalogs of items like chickens, goats, medicines, etc. that we can buy for a developing country that we gift in each other’s name rather than spending the money on each other. Plus, we reduce the clutter of gifts that we don’t necessarily need or want and help others in the process! Win-win!


  8. Carolyn


    Thanks so much for posting this! There are some great ideas here. I just ordered the MI home shirts for my two kids. They proudly wear all of their Detroit and/or MI clothes when we go places and they will love these (I live in southeastern MI). I love your blog and read it daily.


  9. Luba


    Most of our giving is done through our church. Throughout the year, we give our tithe and missions (our church supports evangelists and missionaries in the US and around the world). During Christmas, we take up an offering for our pastor and another for the assistant pastors. Beginning this month, we participate in restocking our church’s food closet with non-perishable items. Our church also chooses families in the community to provide with a Christmas dinner and gifts, and my husband and I usually bring several gifts for that. Otherwise, we will sometimes contribute to a Salvation Army kettle outside a store.

    Touch a Life ( is a way to help feed orphan children and other needy children around the world. Bags of Hope ( also helps feed impoverished people around the world and also to bring them the hope only Jesus can give them.


  10. Maria


    I had read an article similar to yours years ago, and they talked about how overwhelming giving can become. They suggested picking one organization to give to and to only give to that organization. My family and I sat down and we decided which cause we wanted to donate to. We stuck to it. We made a monthly donation to that organization and only that organization. It was surprising how much guilt was lifted off of us. We could pass by all the donation plates outside of the stores and not feel guilty because we knew we were doing our part. It has been 10 years now and we still practice it with one change. We added a second organization.

    Although I may add a third, I have to buy Christmas cards anyway, I might as well get them from “Cards that Give”. Thank you for the link.


  11. Janice


    When my daughter-in-law asked me what I would really like for a birthday gift this year, I said I would LOVE to have one of those Home T tee shirts for our state of Arkansas. Once I told her that I had read about them on “my friend Andrea’s” site, she knew just how to go about ordering it. As I’ve mentioned before, my entire family knows about “my friend Andrea” and also reads
    your blog. Anyway, Home T has THE softest material I have ever touched and makes a great gift for someone. We have 3 friends who have multiple sclerosis so this company’s ministry is especially dear to our hearts.


    Andrea Reply:

    Yup, love the Home T-shirts — I only wish they made them in maternity sizes 🙂


  12. Roberta Lott


    We usually set aside about $500 each year to do something for others during the holidays. I keep my eyes open for a family that might need some assistance and give directly to them. Sometimes I give the money directly to the parents so they can be the heroes for their kids, other times I will spend the money to buy ingredients for a large meal for a family in need, just depends on the situation. Since we have no children, I figure this is one way we can share in the joy that we once experienced as children.


  13. Charissa


    Great info, Andrea! I also like to be purposeful in my giving. I don’t like being asked @ the checkout line if I’d like to make a donation.

    I just checked out the Mary Madeline website and it said, “We are sorry but do to an increase in donations and a sudden shortage of seamstresses we are not able to accept wedding gown donations at this time. Please check back in the near future “.


    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks for letting me know… I just checked the other day and the Mary madeline projects was still accepting. I think I’ll just leave the link on there for now so it’s there in the future if they open up again.


  14. Jilly


    I try to give whatever I can all through the year, especially the Special Olympics, but my resources are greatly reduced now and I have settled on just a few regular ones. I used to do many of the things on your list.

    I volunteer two full days each week helping people with employment issues, also working with our local social service agencies. I spend a minimum of $50 to help provide eyeglasses to those who cannot afford to have vision care. This year I am within walking distance of a church-based program that provides social contact, lunch, access to resources and emergency housing. This Thanksgiving I am helping with the holiday meal and hope that I have the resources to do so again at more occasions.

    One thing I have done for decades is to put $5 in the first Salvation Army kettle I encounter, and then put a dollar in each additional one I see during the season. I allow $100 for this, and on the rare occasion there is any money left, I send the balance to them.

    I used to buy from children selling door-to-door for fundraisers, but the schools, scouts and similar organizations here have decided, after several borderline experiences, that children should not be going around, soliciting from strangers at strange homes. I do not actually buy from them, but I sometimes make a donation.

    I feel that I should be doing more, but it just has to be enough. I am of the belief that doing whatever I can locally will help create the foundation for the larger changes needed to solve many larger problems.


    Andrea Reply:

    Sounds like you’re doing pretty well Jilly — we could ALL do more. The point is, you’re doing something!


  15. Chris


    I live in a “poor” state and a lot of my friends struggle. We like to help them throughout the year – that is my way of helping, rather than giving to an organization.