The holidays are upon us. ‘Tis the season for festive gatherings, spending time with family and a time for helping others. In fact, The Digital Giving Index estimates that nearly one-third of all charitable giving throughout the year occurs in December.

Contrary to what many believe, giving does not just mean donating money to nonprofits in your community. Giving can happen a multitude of ways – from volunteering with your kids, to adopting a family, to donating items to those in need. To help inspire the spirit of giving, we’ve outlined several ways you can make the most of your time and dollars this holiday season.

Give your presence versus presents

If you’re looking for a meaningful way to give this holiday season, what better item to give then your time? Research shows this is already a growing trend among younger generations, with 70 percent of millennials regularly volunteering, which is slightly higher than baby boomers and Generation X at 61 and 63 percent respectively.

If you don’t know where to start, ask friends and family members if they have a favorite organization or activity. Additionally, local charities will typically have holiday-specific volunteer needs posted, so a quick Internet search can provide many options as well. If you already have a favorite organization, consider asking a friend to join you to help expand the organization’s volunteer network.

Donating dollars

If you decide to donate your hard-earned money, treat your charitable giving strategy with the same care and caution you would give to your investments, home or any other high-value item.

With more than 1.5 million registered nonprofits in the U.S. to choose from, selecting and setting a charitable giving strategy can feel overwhelming. To have the most rewarding charitable giving experience, passion for the mission is a must. You should take stock of what makes you and your family most happy and energized. That could be a school, church, community organization, or even a specific cause, like animal welfare, the environment, STEM education or youth leadership programs. There’s no end to the local, regional and worldwide needs where time and donations can make an impact. Gifts of any size are appreciated and may be designated for a specific purpose or for general use.

One tool that makes it easier to browse through organizations based on categories is Charity Navigator this website simplifies finding a foundation or charity and consolidates a great deal of the information about each organization. 

An alternative way to pay it forward with dollars is by giving a more significant tip to service industry workers who help you throughout the year. Kiplinger’s has a great list to get you started thinking about who could benefit from an unexpected bonus in the form of a tip, such as your server, hairdresser, child care provider, mail carrier or trash collector.

Pass on the gift of giving

Teaching your children how to be generous and giving is an admirable goal, but one that is often challenging with limited time, resources or ideas to get started. However, with a little creativity, philanthropy can be possible for children of all ages and can help them develop a sense of purpose and self.

Ages 3-11

Make a charity jar for a portion of their allowance. Let the child decide when and where to donate. Consider matching your child’s donation.

Visit a charity or event, asking the child for input in selection and planning.

Throw a charitable birthday party, where instead of gifts, guests bring an item to support the child’s charity of choice.

Ages 12-14

Give your child a charitable budget and ask them to conduct research and make decisions about distributions.

Encourage children to research and select their own volunteer opportunities.

Identify neighbors who may need help and look for opportunities to assist. Picking up sticks after a storm, writing letters, making and delivering a snack or simply spending time with someone are personal activities that can make a lasting impression.

High school 

Research and plan a volunteer day with friends or make a long-term volunteer commitment. 

Collect items needed by an organization such as clothes, canned goods, paper products and personal items.

Use social media and public advocacy through school, church or social groups to help and highlight good work being done by organizations.

Explore alternative spring break trips to spend time volunteering.

No matter how you give back this year, remember that every act of kindness or generosity can go a long way to spread good cheer and support your neighbors. Happy holidays – and happy giving!


Abby Wendel is president of UMB Bank’s consumer banking. She can be reached at