Decorations are up, Christmas music is adding cheer to the local department stores and children are busily writing their annual notes to Santa. The holiday season is in full swing. Regardless of how you celebrate this time of year, giving is always a central theme. This is the time of year that we give thanks for what we have, and give back to those less fortunate.
Every year, I vow to clean out my closet, volunteer with a local organization or cut a check to my favorite charity, but amid the holiday hustle and bustle, it’s easy to lose track of good intentions. So what can you do to make sure this is the year you follow through? Before your in-laws stage a hostile takeover of your sofa bed, before you brave shopping lines to snag the hottest new digital toy (a Microsoft Surface Tablet, perhaps?), take the following steps to make sure that you spread a little joy this December:
• Clean out your house. If you haven’t worn it, used it or watched it over the past two years, donate it. The things taking up space in your home might make a world of difference to someone in need.
• Volunteer. There is no better way to get actively and passionately involved than to give your time. Look for organizations with missions that match your mindset. Choose a volunteer activity that’s actively solving a problem in your community. And while you’re at it, get the family involved. The children are home for the holidays, and what better way to spend quality time together than to improve someone else’s quality of life? See if your company has a volunteer matching program. At Microsoft, employee volunteer time is matched at $17 an hour. Double the impact of your good deed.
• Invest in a nonprofit. Nothing gives nonprofits more flexibility than a cash donation. In 2011, cash donations to nonprofits increased only slightly over 2010 – and have still not come close to matching pre-recession levels. If your company has a matching program, this is another way to double the impact of your generosity. Microsoft matches employee donations up to $12,000 and accounted for $100 million in nationwide contributions last year alone. While it’s great to donate clothing, food and home goods, there’s a real need around the holiday season for money. It keeps our favorite nonprofits afloat.
• Consider holiday gifts in support of nonprofits. Rather than buying your teenage nephew another pair of gym socks, give him a gift card to an organization like DonorsChoose or GlobalGiving. Trust me, he won’t miss the gym socks, and you could create a lifelong giver.
• Promote random acts of kindness. Buy groceries for a pregnant neighbor. Help the senior citizen who lives next door clean out his or her rain gutters. Give a jacket you don’t wear anymore to someone who looks cold. The little things we can do year-round to improve the lives of those in need of a helping hand seem extra special this time of year.
No dollar or deed should go to waste this holiday season. We want to see your good intentions pay off. Think beyond the holidays – will your commitment to an organization be sustainable for years to come?
So, get active. Research your options. Align your holiday giving with the organizations that do the greatest good for our community, and make sure your contribution has the maximum possible impact.
Sid Espinosa is director of corporate citizenship and philanthropy at Microsoft Silicon Valley in Mountain View.