18 Ways to Give Back During the Holidays

Spend the holiday season giving back to your community.

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Diverse human hands showing unity

Photo by: Mango Stock | Graphic By: Erica Reitman

Mango Stock | Graphic By: Erica Reitman

The arrival of the holiday season often means spending time with family, exchanging gifts and enjoying delicious meals with loved ones. But it’s also the perfect time to focus on gratitude and giving. Choosing to focus on doing good during this hectic time of year is a wonderful tradition to start for yourself or your family.

Whether you’d like to volunteer, perform random acts of kindness or make a donation, we have 18 ideas for great ways you can do some good this holiday season.

1: Drive-Thru Surprise

This is one of the easiest ways to do something kind for a complete stranger. The next time you go through the drive-thru to get your morning cup of coffee or lunch, pay for the person behind you. That’s it! You’ll drive away before they’ll know what you did so they won’t get a chance to thank you, but you’ll know that you totally made a stranger’s day.

2: Up Your Tips

Another easy way to do good over the holiday season is to randomly increase your tips to 50 or 100 percent when you go out to eat. Write a simple "Our family wishes you and yours a very happy holiday!" on your bill, and leave your server a nice tip.

3: Recurring Monthly Donations

As you plan your gift list for the holidays, consider donations instead of actual presents. For a special gift for someone (or for yourself) set up a recurring monthly donation for the organizations you most want to support. Even a recurring $5 donation can make a difference.

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Cute Hispanic girl is holding a cardboard sign with 'Thank You!' witten on the board. She and her family are in a soup kitchen or food bank. She is smiling at the camera. Her brown hair is in a braid. Volunteers ar serving her family in the background. Focus is on the girl and the sign.

Photo by: Getty Images

Getty Images

4: Help Your Local Animal Shelter

If you’re an animal lover (or your kids are), it would be a lovely gesture to volunteer at your local shelter as a family. Often the dogs need to be walked and socialized, which is a great activity for the family. Ask the shelter what’s on their wish list and stop at a pet store before you volunteer, so you can bring collars, dog beds or anything else they might need.

5: Bring Cookies to a Nursing Home

Senior citizens in nursing homes aren’t always lucky enough to have friends and family to visit them during the holidays. This can feel especially isolating at this time of year. Call your local nursing home to see if they would be open to you dropping off cookies or baked goods to their residents. You can walk around, deliver sweet treats and get to know the residents.

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Granddaughter embracing her happy grandmother at home

Photo by: Eva-Katalin, Getty Images

Eva-Katalin, Getty Images

6: Teach Your Kids the Importance of Giving

It’s wonderful to teach your kids the importance of giving, even at a young age. For one of their holiday gifts, give them a pre-determined amount of money. Then help them to choose a charity or organization (or several!) that they would like to support, and let them decide which they would like to donate their money to.

7: Use Amazon Smile

After signing up with Amazon Smile and choosing any charity of your choice, a portion of everything you buy on Amazon will be donated to your charity every single time you shop. You just need to make sure that you always use the smile.amazon.com URL instead of amazon.com. It’s one of the easiest ways to give and do some good.

8: Stock Up on Gift Cards

Stock up on $5 or $10 gift cards (Amazon, American Express or Target, for example), and hand them out to people that you interact with often: a bank teller; a cashier at the supermarket you frequent; your favorite barista. Passing along a gift card with a simple "Happy Holidays!" wish will almost always bring a smile to someone's face.

9: Write Letters to Deployed Military Members

The holidays are an especially hard time for these heroes to be away from their family, so a personalized letter really can lift their spirits. Have the kids decorate their letters with stickers or special drawings for an extra-special touch.

Get Involved: Operation Gratitude

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small child writes the letter to Santa

Photo by: Choreograph, Getty Images

Choreograph, Getty Images

10: Thank Your Local Firefighters

Call the non-emergency number of your local fire department to find out how many firefighters they typically have there at any given time. Then, put together a delicious breakfast of baked goods you can drop off to thank these brave men and women for their service.

More Ways to Do Good + Make a Difference:

Loan your money to third-world entrepreneurs through a website like Kiva. Ninety-nine percent of these loans are paid back, and you can truly change the lives of the families who receive the loans.

Discover where to donate everything in your home, from books and electronics to clothes and sporting equipment.

This website helps you target opportunities for kids and families to do good together.

The Joy of Sox is a wonderful organization that provides new pairs of socks to homeless people. New socks are apparently the number one item needed, and people rarely donate them.

Stand Up 2 Cancer is an amazing initiative developed to help accelerate innovative cancer research and work toward finding cures.

If you and your family love to take on art and DIY projects, consider creating handmade cards for sick kids in hospitals all across America.

Know you want to do some good, but don’t have any clue where to start? Volunteer Match can help you find opportunities in your area that will work with your schedule and passion.

Another wonderful family activity over the holiday would be to volunteer for Habitat for Humanity. They are building homes all across the country with the hope that everyone has a decent place to live. They also accommodate group volunteering, so you could really get your whole extended family involved.

21 Gifts That Give Back

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For the Maker

Causebox, a subscription-based, quarterly gift box, features handmade, upcycled and socially-conscious products. The items inside each box inspire DIYs, crafts and cooking in your home while also empowering artisans around the world with meals, clean water and education. Subscriptions start at $50 per quarter.

Photo By: Cause Box

For the Music Buff

With the new iPhone 7 losing its headphone jack, a wireless alternative will be a welcome gift this year. And the Bluetooth options from LSTN are gorgeous. We're gushing over the beautiful zebra wood featured in their headphones ($179). Even better? For every item sold, LSTN helps give hearing aids to those in need through the Starkey Hearing Foundation.

Photo By: LSTN

For the Dapper

Actor Jesse Tyler Ferguson founded Tie The Knot with a simple mission: advocate for LGBT equality while looking good. Each quarter, Tie The Knot partners with The Tie Bar to release a series of exclusive, stylish bow ties designed by fellow stars, from Cyndi Lauper to Tim Gunn. Bow ties are $25-35 and $20 of every $25 purchase (or $30/$35) is donated to fight for LGBT civil rights around the world.

Photo By: Tie the Knot

For the Foodie

Any cook will enjoy unwrapping the specialty olive oils and vinegars from Oliovera. The batches come from small, sustainable farms in California and most bottles are around $20. For every order, the company donates 11 meals to Feeding America.

Photo By: Oliovera

For the Adventurer

The outdoor clothing and gear company Cotopaxi is on a mission to erase global poverty by donating proceeds to causes in three specific areas: health, education and livelihood. You can see where your dollars went each year in their impact report posted online. We love the unisex down jackets and durable duffel bags for $120.

Photo By: Cotopaxi

For the Caffeine Addict

Laughing Man Coffee, founded by actor Hugh Jackman, is a fair trade coffee company that features ethically-sourced coffee from countries like Ethiopia and Colombia. All profits from the New York City cafe go back to the Laughing Man Foundation, which supports education and social entrepreneurs around the world. Can't make it to NYC? Keurig has partnered with the company and you can order four different single-serve varieties online.

Photo By: Laughing Man

For the Crafter

Any DIYer will appreciate the attention to detail in Ichcha's handmade quilts and tapestries. They'll also appreciate the preservation of skills almost lost forever. Ichcha was created to save the art of block printing, hand weaving and hand embroidering textiles in countries like India, where families are abandoning unique weaving styles for more lucrative trades. Ichcha empowers artisans and the result is beautiful. We love new blankets like this indigo throw or this lotus block print for $200.

Photo By: Ichcha

For the Wine Snob

Drink for a cause? Yes, really. Each bottle from OneHope Wine benefits a different cause. Varieties of reds, whites and roses range in price from less than $20 to $80. We love the sparkling wine glitter bottles. At $59-69 each, it's a great splurge to ring in the new year. The gold and silver bottles benefit child hunger, the pink glitter benefits breast cancer research, the red bottle benefits heart disease research, and the rainbow glitter funds The Trevor Project, a suicide prevention hotline for LGBT youth. 

Photo By: One Hope Wine

For the Beauty Queen

Subscription box Love Goodly features natural products for a toxin-free beauty routine. Five percent of the proceeds from each box go back to causes like Cure Cervical Cancer. For a one-time gift, Glow for a Cause has a new makeup bag featuring samples of all of their body butters. Five percent of each purchase gives back to non-profits like Cowgirls vs. Cancer.

Photo By: Love Goodly

For the Fashionista

The trendy accessories at Live FashionABLE range from gorgeous leather totes ($178) to dainty stacking rings starting at $15. Every item is hand-crafted by women and creates jobs for women overcoming addiction and homelessness.

Photo By: Live Fashionable

For the Traveler

Even the most on-the-go travelers need a couple of home decor pieces. Check out the Unicef Market and shop more than 8,000 handmade items around the world, from knickknacks to linens. All items give back to global artisans and you can see which countries benefit from each item.

Photo By: Unicef Market

For the Sports Fan

Play for a cause this holiday season. Athletic outfitter 4Point4 partnered with non-profit streetfootballworld to give back to youth soccer teams and the result is a line of (seriously cool) designer graphic jerseys. Every purchase benefits soccer groups around the world, from India's Shakti Girls Project to Amandla FC in South Africa.

Photo By: 4point4

For the Little Ones

With every purchase from Bears for Humanity, a teddy bear is donated to a child in need. Choose from soft, organic cotton bears or lovable animal pals like a turtle or puppy. Prices vary from $25-45. 

Photo By: Bears for Humanity

For Kids

Out of Print has a line of adorable T-shirts featuring beloved children's book titles. Sizes range from two to 10 years and most styles are $20 or less. Every purchase helps fund literacy programs and book donations for communities in need.

Photo By: Out of Print

For Teens

Pura Vida's popular beachy bracelets are already ethically-sourced, provide fair wages for artisans in Costa Rica and give to 1 percent for the planet, meaning the company donates one percent of its annual net revenue to environmental organizations worldwide. But the company goes a step further with a line of bracelets that benefit specific charities. Each bracelet ($5) or stack ($30-$40) features colors that represent a specific cause, from Save the Sea Turtles to U.S. military branches.

Photo By: Pura Vida

For the Teacher

If you haven't heard of Yoobi, the company makes school supplies in a series of bright, fun colors. And for every item you buy, Yoobi donates an item to a classroom in need in the U.S. They recently rolled out a series of products just for teachers. The hall passes and stickers make a great gift for less than $10. 

Photo By: Yoobi

For the Animal Lover

The World Wildlife Fund has giving options to make a donation in someone's name or make a donation and select a thank-you gift. Each donation helps protect threaten species and their habitats. We love these colorful beach towels at $55. 

Photo By: World Wildlife Fund

For the Chocoholic

Seattle Chocolates' motto reads "All you need is love and chocolate," which is also a great motto for the holiday season. For every Jcoco bar purchased, a meal is donated to a food bank. With couture flavors like, Bali Sea Salt Toffee and Veracruz Cayenne Orange, stock up on these for hostess gifts and stocking stuffers.

Photo By: Seattle Chocolate

For Pets

Don't forget your furry friends this holiday season. Animal Rescue Site has adorable clothing and accessories for cats, dogs and pet owners. Proceeds from every purchase provide food and care for rescued animals and you can see exactly how much your purchase funds. This hooded rain coat (around $20) funds 14 bowls of food.

Photo By: Animal Rescue Site

For the Tech-Obsessed

Buying gadgets for people who love gadgets can be tough. Chances are they already have the new, hit product on the market. But any tech-obsessed person will always appreciate extra juice. (RED) recently partnered with Mophie to create exclusive, red-colored phone and tablet chargers and five percent of the net profit will go to The Global Fund to end AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis. We love the travel-sized Powerstation Reserve Keychain at about $35.

Photo By: RED

For People Who Hate Winter

There's always someone on your list who gets a little too excited about fuzzy slipper-socks. Why not bundle them up with a sweater that gives back? Slumlove sweaters and scarves are ethically sourced and produced in Kenya and give scholarships to children living in some of the world's largest slums.

Photo By: Slum Love

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