This is the time of year when we tend to give more thought than usual to people in need. Americans will donate more than $100 billion to good causes between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day, according to Charity Navigator. Imagine how much more we could give if we weren't financially strapped by gift-giving, holiday travel, and family feasts. While we're thinking of others, our stressed-out bank accounts eventually start thinking only of their own well-being.
I ponder this every year, because I'm often too broke from the revelry at this time of year to answer all of the calls I get for donations. Inevitably, I scrawl "give more to charity" on a list of resolutions ... and then the list promptly gets lost in a pile of shredded wrapping paper.
So, hoping to inspire myself -- and maybe you, too -- I offer a few ideas for working philanthropy into the rest of the year.
Budget it. If you're the budgeting type, there's probably a line item in your accounting system for everything from the mortgage to Friday night movies. Earmarking only your leftover cash for charity might mean you give nothing this year. Make charitable donations a priority by setting aside money in your monthly budget throughout the year.
Subscribe. If you're not the budgeting type, you can make a charitable donation a regular part of your monthly expenses by signing up for an automatic monthly gift. Many large charities will charge a monthly donation to your credit card. This is an effective way to spread your gifts through the year, so that you're not crunched in December. You'll also have a handy credit card record at tax time.
Pool your resources. I've increased my do-good karma by joining a friend and hosting an annual charity dinner. The first event benefited Hurricane Katrina victims, and it was so successful that we've repeated it every year since. This year, we collected $1,000 for cancer charities, just by opening my kitchen and offering everyone free food and drink. You'll be surprised at how generous your friends can be.
Give away someone else's money. If you can't find any extra money in your budget for charitable causes, spend someone else's. Corporations, including Pfizer (NYSE: PFE ) , Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT ) , and Bank of America (NYSE: BAC ) , are some of the world's biggest donors to charity. Your company may have a charitable-giving program, and it may use employees to help dole out the cash. See about getting involved or starting a charity program at your workplace. And don't forget to check into whether your employer offers to match your gifts.
Gifts of giving. We give a lot of gifts around this time of year, but that's not the only time of year. Birthdays, anniversaries, and maybe even April Fool's Day can be an occasion for making a donation on someone else's behalf. Choose a charity that befits your recipient. You can also find gift cards that let the recipient choose the charity.
Get inspired. You may be more moved to give when you're inspired by a charity's good works. Spend some time searching for a good cause that you admire. The charity can best tell you about the work it does, but you'll also want to make sure your money will be well spent. Turn to Charity Navigator, GuideStar, or the BBB Wise Giving Alliance for more information.
And if spreading knowledge is a cause you can support, consider donating to one of the charities chosen for this year's Foolanthropy drive, the first solely dedicated to eradicating financial illiteracy.
For more charitable inspiration: