20 ideas for meaningful and impactful giving this holiday season

Royalty-Free/Getty ImagesYou can try to start a community garden if your neighbourhood doesn’t have one.
  • The holidays may look different this year, but there are still many ways to give back to both your local community and individuals around the globe.
  • Crafty individuals can volunteer to paint murals or make masks and blankets to donate.
  • People who want to donate their time can become a virtual tutor or volunteer to transcribe museum documents or map rural areas.
  • Those who love wildlife can gift national-park memberships or symbolically adopt endangered animals.
  • Supporting local artists, putting together kits for those experiencing homelessness, and donating blood are also great ways to give back.
  • This article is the first is a series titled The Doers.

Although the holidays may look a bit different this year, there’s perhaps no better time to give back.

Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to turn your time or money into meaningful gifts that can make a real impact on your community and beyond.

Read on for a few ways to give this holiday season and all year round.


Give an animal the gift of love and shelter by fostering a pet.

Angela Auclair/GettyFostering a pet can help ease the burden on animal shelters and volunteers.

Fostering involves caring for a shelter pet until a permanent owner can be found or an unwell animal is healthy enough to return to a shelter. Fostering arrangements can last a few days to many months.

In addition to helping animals feel loved, pet fostering also decreases the burden on volunteers and crowded animal shelters.

You can use the ASPCA’s Find a Shelter tool to locate an animal shelter near you.


Symbolically adopt an endangered species from afar.

REUTERS/Tyrone SiuA panda is one of many endangered species you can adopt.

If you don’t have the ability to care for a creature in your home, symbolically adopting a species can help you protect wild animals and their habitats.

The World Wildlife Fund offers “adoption kits” for many endangered species, from pandas to bumblebees. Kits include an adoption certificate, a plush toy, and other themed items. You can also opt for a virtual adoption, which doesn’t include any physical goods.

More than 80% of the proceeds are directed toward global conservation activities.


Gift a national-park membership.

George Rose/Getty ImagesA national-park membership is also a thoughtful gift.

Gifting an annual membership to a national park is a great way to support conservation efforts and provide year-round fun to someone you love.

The National Park Service offers a range of annual passes. The standard annual pass is $US80 and provides unlimited daily access to more than 2,000 parks, refuges, forests, and seasides across America.

Seniors 62 years and older qualify for a $US20 annual pass or an $US80 lifetime pass.


Beautify your neighbourhood and grow produce by volunteering at a community garden.

SolStock/Getty ImagesGardening can be a project for the whole family.

A community garden is a shared space that allows members to grow plants for food and fun.

Volunteering at a garden can help support communities by beautifying neighbourhoods, stimulating social interaction, and providing healthy food to members.

If there aren’t any community gardens in your area, you can try starting one. Get in touch with your town hall or local council for guidance or contact the American Community Gardening Association for help getting started.


Cook a holiday meal using produce from local farmers.

Crystal Cox/Business InsiderSupporting local farmers and makers can be as easy as using more fresh produce and handmade items.

Rather than cooking a holiday meal using produce and meat from a chain supermarket, support local farmers by sourcing ingredients for your feast from nearby growers.

You can use the USDA National Farmers Market Directory to find local markets.

If you’d rather support regional farmers all year long, consider joining a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program where you can pay to be sent locally grown products during harvest seasons.


Support local and indigenous artisans.

Hanneke Vollbehr/Royalty-Free/Getty ImagesThis is a great way to find gifts for everyone on your list while supporting small businesses.

If you’re looking for a way to turn your holiday shopping list into a force for social good, consider buying from local and indigenous artisans.

Buying from indigenous makers and local craftspeople supports small businesses and the survival of traditional crafting knowledge.

You can use the First Peoples Fund online search tool to find Native artists working near you.


Paint a mural that will add vibrant visuals to a local community.

Sisoje/Royalty-Free/Getty ImagesYou can also volunteer your art skills to local businesses.

Channel your creative energy into painting a beautiful public mural to help decorate an urban space.

Platforms like Beautify connect artists with businesses and towns that are interested in creating a mural in their community.

You can also work directly with local businesses and property owners to create a mural.


Craft homemade blankets to give people and animals some extra comfort this holiday season.

gabriel12/ShutterstockThose who love crafting may appreciate making blankets for others to enjoy.

Hospitals, daycare centres, women’s shelters, homeless shelters, and police and fire stations are often in need of blankets.

Fortunately, groups such as Project Linus and Binky Patrol accept donations of handmade blankets and deliver them to organisations in need.

Animal shelters are also often appreciative of handmade blankets. For example, Comfort for Critters is a volunteer program that distributes them to pet shelters around the US.


Sew homemade masks to donate or gift to loved ones.

GettyJust be sure to follow CDC guidelines when making masks.

Many organisations are accepting donations of homemade cloth face masks to help protect employees, volunteers, and individuals in need.

According to the CDC, handmade masks should include multiple layers of fabric and completely cover the nose and mouth. They should also be able to be laundered without damage and fit snugly against the face without restricting breathing.

Research local hospitals and groups in need of DIY masks in your area, or drop off your handmade masks at a Red Cross chapter.


Make handmade cards to spread holiday cheer.

LaineN/ShutterstockThis is a great way to get kids involved, too.

Handmade cards are an easy expression of kindness that can make a difference in someone’s life, and there are plenty of ways to send them to others.

You can donate your homemade cards to organisations that distribute cards to children in hospitals, military members, elderly individuals, and people in hospice care. It may also be possible to deliver your cards to a local hospital, care home, or shelter – just be sure to call ahead to see if there are any guidelines to follow.


Help to build homes for those in need.

Viacheslav Nikolaenko/ShutterstockThis is a great way to hone in on some useful skills, too.

Learn new skills and help families achieve affordable housing by volunteering with Habitat for Humanity.

The organisation builds and repairs homes for people in need. Volunteers can donate their time and help out on build sites, or donate money to help fund projects.

If you’re not comfortable swinging a hammer, Habitat for Humanity also offers volunteer positions at its ReStore home-improvement stores and donation centres.


Offer to go grocery shopping for someone else.

Joey Hadden/Business InsiderBy shopping for someone else, you can help a neighbour or friend who is unable to get to a grocery store.

Picking up groceries for someone who isn’t comfortable heading to the store themselves can be an easy act of holiday kindness.

Elderly people, medically vulnerable people, and parents of young children may really appreciate having their groceries brought to their home, especially in areas where paid grocery delivery isn’t available or affordable.


Put together kits for people who are experiencing homelessness.

Irina Kononova/Shutterstock.Socks are a thoughtful item to give.

Putting together care packages can help the many individuals who are currently experiencing homelessness.

These kits can include things like sunscreen, tissues, toothbrushes and toothpaste, lip balm, hand sanitizer, first-aid supplies, period products, socks, and shelf-stable snacks like dried fruit and peanut butter.

Contact your local homeless shelter to find out about donating in your area. If you’d rather give cash, groups like the Homeless Backpack Network use donations to provide people who are experiencing homelessness with supplies.


Donate your hair to help adults and kids who are experiencing hair loss.

AJ_Watt/Royalty-Free/Getty ImagesIf you have long, unbleached hair this can be a simple way to give back.

Locks of Love and Wigs for Kids use donations to create hairpieces for recipients experiencing medical conditions or injuries that cause hair loss. Recipients often include people with alopecia, cancer, genetic conditions, or severe burns.

Just keep in mind that hair must typically be a certain length (usually 10 to 12 inches), unbleached, and clean.


Become a tutor through your local library.

NurPhoto / Contributor / GettyTutoring can be done virtually.

Modern libraries are much more than book repositories. Many offer tutoring programs for children and adults looking to learn new skills or excel academically.

Check with your local library branch to see if they have educational programs that are accepting volunteers.

You may also be able to help by donating useful classroom items such as notebooks, markers, scientific calculators, or art supplies.


Become a virtual volunteer and work on tasks like transcribing and mapping.

ShutterstockYou can volunteer from your couch.

Volunteering virtually is a great way to get involved without leaving home.

Virtual volunteers are needed for tasks like transcribing museum documents, mapping remote or rural areas, and mentoring individuals around the world.

Check out a range of remote volunteering opportunities on VolunteerMatch or take a look at Points of Light’s curated list of ongoing remote volunteer missions.


If you meet the requirements, become a volunteer firefighter or EMT.

Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty ImagesYou’ll want to check the requirements before volunteering.

Become a local hero by training to be a volunteer firefighter or emergency medical technician (EMT).

Volunteers typically don’t need any prior emergency-service experience, though trainees may need to meet minimum age requirements, pass background checks, and have a certain level of physical fitness.

Check the National Volunteer Fire Council for more information about becoming a volunteer firefighter or EMT. You can also contact your fire department about requirements and local training programs.


Donate blood.

REUTERS/Eric GaillardThis can be done year-round.

Giving blood is a simple and almost painless way to make a difference during the holiday season and beyond.

According to the American Red Cross, the red blood cells in donated blood must be used within 42 days and the platelets are viable for just five days, which means a constant supply of new donations is vital.

Although the guidelines to be a donor vary by location, in some states healthy individuals as young as 16 can donate with consent from a guardian.

You can use the American Red Cross website to find a blood drive or blood bank near you.


Join the bone-marrow donor database.

iStock / Getty Images PlusSigning up to be a potential bone-marrow donor can help save a life.

Some conditions, such as leukemia, interfere with a person’s ability to produce healthy blood cells. For these people, a bone-marrow transplant may be the only treatment option.

It can also be really difficult for individuals in need to find a match. And unlike blood donation, bone-marrow donation is a surgical procedure.

Visit Be The Match for more information about the process and the National Marrow Donor Program.


Donate to your favourite cause or find a new one to support.

mixetto/Royalty-Free/Getty ImagesThere are plenty of organisations that would appreciate extra help this holiday season.

Giving back doesn’t need to be complicated. You can help drive change and support causes you care about through a simple monetary donation to a charity or organisation of your choice.

If you need help discovering a cause that resonates with you, try Charity Navigator, a searchable directory of more than 160,000 regional and international charities.

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