If you look around you at all the tinsel and commercial trappings of this holiday season and despair, take heart! It may indeed be the season of stressing out over gifts and cards and family gatherings -- but it's also the season of giving.

Just look at a recent issue of BusinessWeek magazine. It devoted many pages to listing the corporations and individuals who have been the most generous. I reviewed its list of the 50 most generous donors this year, as I often do, and was once again surprised to not see my name on it. But then I remembered that the list reflects how much people have actually given, not how much they'd like to give.

To make the list, I would have had to give or pledge more than $120 million from 2001 to 2005 -- that's the amount pledged or given by No. 50 on the list, Analogic (NASDAQ:ALOG) founder Bernard Gordon. More impressive, his net worth is estimated at $125 million and it's believed he has given some $125 million in his lifetime. That's pretty great!

Here are some other impressive folks. William Coleman, co-founder of BEA Systems (NASDAQ:BEAS), and Claudia Coleman have given some $254 million in their lifetime. (A favored cause is cognitive disabilities.) That's 339% of their net worth. Irwin and Joan Jacobs -- Irwin co-founded a little company called Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) -- have given some $490 million in their lifetime to education and the arts. They've donated $339 million -- more than a third of a billion dollars! -- just in the past few years.

We're all familiar with the generosity of Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) Bill and Melinda Gates. In case you didn't realize just how generous they've been, know that from 2001 to 2005, they've given or pledged more than $5 billion, and in their lifetimes, they've given nearly $28 billion. That's more than 50% of their net worth. Was this $5 billion enough to land them at the top of the list? Perhaps surprisingly, no. Gordon and Betty Moore earned that spot, giving $7 billion in the past few years. You may remember Gordon as a founder of Intel (NASDAQ:INTC).

Coming in at third place was none other than Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE:BRKa) (NYSE:BRKb) CEO Warren Buffett, the world's second-richest man, whom many have criticized over the years for not giving away more of his money. He's donated $2.6 billion in the past few years and has suggested that he's coming around to his friend Bill Gates' way of thinking -- that it's better to give away your money now than to wait until it has grown into a bigger pile of money.

If you have a few extra dollars in your pocket (it doesn't have to be a billion) and you'd like to share some of your financial good fortune with others who are in great need, we invite you to join with us in supporting some impressive Foolanthropies. Remember that:

  • Fully one-fifth of humanity, some 1.3 billion people, struggles to survive on less than $1 per day.
  • About 40% of humanity survives on less than $2 per day.
  • More than a billion people around the world will go to bed hungry tonight.
  • Life expectancy in some 32 countries is less than 40 years.

Your $25 or $50 or even $1,000 may not land you on BusinessWeek's list, but you'll be tops in our book.

And as a small reward for yourself, permit me to suggest that you take advantage of a free trial to one or more of our investing newsletters. At no cost, you'll be able to review long lists of recommended stocks and funds, to peruse all back issues online, and even to interact with our analysts on our discussion boards. I suspect that when you see how well our newsletters' picks have been doing, you may want to keep one or two subscriptions going. If not, you'll have lost nothing and gained some ideas and insights. Hey, you deserve it!

Fools, now is the time to open your hearts and wallets to worthy causes! Please support our five Foolish charities at www.foolanthropy.com.

Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian owns shares of Microsoft, a Motley Fool Inside Valuerecommendation, and Berkshire Hathaway. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.