Have you been looking for something fresh and different to spend your Christmas bonus on this year? Too often, the holiday season turns into a hurricane of shopping, and when the new year arrives, you look back and wish you had invested in something of true value. Here are five great opportunities to “pay it forward.”
Regardless of whether you live in a large city or a small town, there are people (and animals!) around you who can benefit from your resources. Those resources don’t have to be financial; they can be in the form of time and energy. Think of neighbors who don’t have your good fortune: are there older people in a retirement or nursing home who would be delighted to have someone come and visit? Does your city have an animal shelter or SPCA, a soup kitchen or food bank that need extra help? Do you belong to a church or civic organization that is seeking more people to sign up for community projects? Think about your local charities and organizations where you can offer a hand to others in need – be a Big Sister or a Big Brother, join Habitat for Humanity for their next build project or ring the bell for The Salvation Army. Ideally, your generous holiday urge to volunteer will be the start of something long-lasting and even life-changing (for you, as well as for those whom you help). The holiday season may be a time when your eyes can truly be opened to new possibilities that exist in the world community around you.
Enlarge your family circle
Are there people in your life whom you always mean to reach out to? They might be actual relatives, such as a grandparent you always intend to visit more often, or a sister-in-law that you’d like to get to know better. On the other hand, perhaps you have a lonely neighbor who smiles when you go by, and sometimes lends you tools, or a busy single mother who needs a few hours to herself. We all depend on one another, and the holiday season is great for reminding us of what family really means. String the Christmas lights, put on some music, and open your home and heart to a newly warmed circle of people. You’ll feel richer as you begin the new year.
Support a hard-working student
Nakoo allows you to browse the profiles of hopeful U.S. college students and to invest any amount of money into their careers. You will meet many young people on this site who are struggling with enormous challenges and yet are still trying as hard as they can to move forward. Your contribution to a student’s education is paid directly to the college, so there’s no possibility of the funds being sidetracked for other uses. In return for your scholarship gift, students offer “perks,” which may be customized research, writing or artwork.
Engage in secret acts of kindness
If your life is too hectic to reasonably envision an ongoing volunteer commitment, you can be creative about spontaneously brightening someone’s life. How about dropping off some homemade cookies for your child’s hardworking teacher, or having a pizza delivered to the night janitors at your workplace? Once you start thinking creatively, the possibilities are endless. Do you have a co-worker who’s always willing to stop what they’re doing and help you out? Why not have flowers delivered with an anonymous Thank You? There are a thousand ways to brighten the world during the holiday season.
Give a hand up to someone
Your donation to Heifer International provides a family in a developing country with a farm animal or with training to move forward and start a small business. Sometimes the path to survival and a better life is as simple as receiving a breeding pair of sheep or a healthy young cow. Even if you can’t provide a whole camel ($850) or a water buffalo ($250), you can join with other donors in purchasing shares of these animals. For $30, you can provide a family with a hive of honeybees; or for $20, a flock of ducks. Just reading the Heifer International catalog feels like an armchair trip around the world.
If you want to use your resources to make life better for others, but you can’t afford an outright gift, Kiva is a great solution. This organization provides global peer-to-peer lending, so your contribution is put to work for a period of time and then returned to you. You can browse through photos and profiles of ambitious entrepreneurs, artisans and farmers around the world and contribute any multiple of $25 as a loan. You are not guaranteed to receive your contribution back, but Kivas overall repayment rate is 99 percent.
There are so many ways to pay it forward; you may find the joy of giving so exciting that you’ll make it a year-round way of life. If you have favorite ways of offering something back to the world, let us know!