Give the Gift of Charity This Christmas

A young African girl holding a Christmas present from a charity and smiling at the camera.

Every Christmas, my mom’s side of the family meets up at my grandma’s house, and each family brings a gift to pass out to the others. You know the type — brownie mix layered in jars, homemade peanut brittle, the occasional mixed CD.

A few years ago, my aunt and uncle veered from the usual and instead, made a donation to sponsor a child in poverty in the name of each of our families. The only material item they gave us was a little scroll of paper, tied with a red ribbon, with the name of the charity and the child’s photo enclosed in it.

This unexpected approach to gifting has since stuck with me. It recognizes giving as an opportunity to meet a need in the world. To do so in the name of another brings them into that act. Donating to a charity, however, is not as easy as pouring brownie mix in a jar.

If you are interested in giving charitable offerings as Christmas gifts but you don’t know where to start, here is a quick guide.

Put thought into giving in someone else’s name.

Instead of donating to a charity that you usually would, try picking one based on your family or friend’s interests, passions, or hobbies. This makes the gift even more meaningful, both for you and your family or friend.

Check out the legitimacy of a charity.

Once you have a topic and maybe some charities in mind, narrow your search by verifying the credibility of the organizations. With over 1.5 million nonprofits in the US alone, that task could seem pretty daunting, but sources like GuideStar, GiveWell, and Charity Navigator make it pretty easy. The sites allow you to quickly see an individual charity’s mission, legitimacy, and impact.

Make the match.

Here’s some brainstorming to get you going. I used Charity Navigator, which uses a four-star rating system (four stars being the highest), and selected charities for these scenarios. The organizations mentioned below align with the Gospel’s call to serve the poor and/or care for God’s creation.

For your sister who is always heartbroken after watching the news…

Catholic Relief Services — four stars

CRS is committed to promoting the dignity of every human life, fulfilling Catholic social teaching as they do so. They not only work to fight disease and poverty abroad, but they are also on the forefront of providing disaster relief in emergency situations.Though they work primarily with Catholic institutions to carry out their mission, their reach extends to all populations in need, regardless of creed, race, or nationality.

For your brother-in-law who drives a hybrid…

Rainforest Trust — four stars

This nonprofit helps to protect threatened tropical rainforests and endangered wildlife by working with the local communities surrounding these vulnerable environments. A notable aspect of this organization is that 100 percent of its donations go directly toward conservation action.

For your great aunt who always said you’d make a good priest or nun…

The Labouré Society — three stars

The goal of this organization is to offer financial assistance to individuals who feel called to pursue the priesthood or religious life but are hindered by student debt.

For your friend who goes on service trips instead of spring break…

Hope for Haiti’s Children — four stars

The mission of Hope for Haiti’s Children is to demonstrate Christian compassion to Haitian families living in poverty. Their program has a specific focus on nurturing, educating, and training these children to become leaders in their communities.

For your aunt in Chicago who always tears up at the sound of Sarah McLachlan’s voice…

PAWS Chicago — four stars

PAWS Chicago is the city’s largest no-kill humane organization. They take in thousands of homeless dogs and cats and work to find them suitable homes, all while advocating for the No Kill mission, a national revolution that is widely becoming the accepted model for animal shelters.

Reignite what it means to give this holiday season. By taking into account not only the quality of the charity, but also the values of the person in which you’re donating, you make the act of giving personal from both ends. Pair that with a background check on the organization through databases like Charity Navigator, and you’ve also ensured the effectiveness of your donation.

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