Every year in my parents' town, there's a fundraiser for the local children's hospital. For one weekend in December, medical students blanket the town with buckets and cheerfully solicit donations from passersby. If you put some coins or dollars into the buckets, you receive a little tag, with a string, in return. Tie the tag around a coat button or jacket zipper, and other fundraisers will know that you already donated.

This is the kind of charitable giving that I, and undoubtedly thousands of other people, grew up with: a very simple, low-impact concept that involves giving what you wish, on the spot, on an annual basis.

Another kind of philanthropic method that has grown more popular in recent years is to purchase an item and know that a certain percentage of the proceeds is being donated to a charitable cause or organization. Gap (NYSE:GPS) and Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) participate in the (Product) Red campaign, earmarking a share of custom clothing or special red iPods to HIV and AIDS relief in Africa. MAC Cosmetics' Viva Glam line also raises money for AIDS treatment and education.

This method has made philanthropy more innovative and attractive. By combining fundraising with the purchase of everyday items, it's brought more people into casual contact with the idea of charity. The downside to this method is that, by definition, the campaigns are "purchase-required," meaning the amount that the charity receives is determined by how much you purchase.

While this is a great way to combine consumerism and philanthropy, it can be difficult, in some cases, to know exactly how much you're actually contributing to the cause you want to support. And much like the low-key method I described earlier, it can also be difficult to really learn a lot about a charity when you donate money spontaneously in the form of dropping bills in a bucket or buying lipstick.

So The Motley Fool has come up with a different way to promote philanthropy. We call it "Foolanthropy." Our annual campaign, now in its 10th year, draws on our extensive and opinionated Fool community to bring a wide variety of charities to our attention via our Foolanthropy discussion board and, once we've selected five to support, donate money directly to the charity of their choice.

But since we Fools are all about due diligence, we've researched each and every charity that was nominated to ensure that it fits with the Fool's mission to enrich, educate, and amuse. Our role in Foolanthropy is to be a consultant of sorts: We check the organization's financial history, its board of directors, and whether it's offering truly sustainable solutions to the problem it confronts. And since we don't believe that there can ever be too much research, we encourage anyone interested in contributing to a charity to go to that organization's website and read our always-lively Foolanthropy discussion board to get more information.

We also encourage anyone, from those who have participated in Foolanthropy for the past decade to those who have never heard of it before, to ask questions of the community and us. We want to see you use your money for something you believe in, and we know that a "virtual" fundraiser like this isn't something many people have encountered before. We'll be running a lot of Foolanthropy-related content over the next six weeks, so feel free to email the author with any questions his or her article has raised.

Now, on to the nuts and bolts of donating to the charity of your choice.

On Foolanthropy's home page, you'll find a list of sites we've set up. At the bottom of each of those sites is a link to donate money directly to that charity. This way, the money goes straight to the charity of your choice, there's no overhead, and all of the links are 100% secure.

However, if you'd prefer to send a check to Fool HQ, make the check out directly to the charity of your choice, write "Foolanthropy" on the "For" or "Memo" line, and mail it on in! We receive a number of donations this way every year, and we even had a few straggler checks show up in June this year, to our (and the charities') delight. If you'd rather mail a check directly to the charity, just make sure that "Foolanthropy" is written on that "For" line, so that it gets counted toward the Foolanthropy tally and helps your charity win the $10,000 bonus prize.

What $10,000 bonus prize, you ask? Well, the Fool likes to put its money where its mouth is. Whichever charity raises the most community support by the end of the drive (Jan. 7) receives an additional $10,000 from us.

And because a lot of community members have strong feelings about different nominated charities, we also run the "My 2 Cents Campaign." This isn't just for posts to the Foolanthropy board. This is for every post to every single discussion board on our site made during the month of December, whether it's a post about Foolanthropy or about the latest movement in Apple's stock price. For each post, the Fool will donate $0.02 to the pot, and the total is divided equally among the four charities that do not win the $10,000.

So help us celebrate 10 years of interactive, virtual philanthropy, and check out our site at www.foolanthropy.com. And while you're there, consider making a donation to your favorite charity (or charities). It's like dropping money into a bucket or buying a lipstick for charity, except that here, you know exactly where your money's going. You can click around on the charities' sites to your heart's content, and watch as the tally goes up with each drop in the virtual bucket.

We're very proud to have Hilton Family Hotels (NYSE:HLT) as a partner of our Foolanthropy 2006 campaign.

Gap is both an Inside Value and a Stock Advisor recommendation.

Fool online editor Sarah Erdreich doesn't own shares of any company mentioned. The Fool has a disclosure policy.