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Nov. 14, 2017

'Tis the (giving) season: Ways to contribute now and all year long

Too many challenging issues impact our communities - hunger, homelessness, health, education, financial stability. We all can make a difference in the lives of those in need and can play a part.

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By Laurie Coskey

Something about the holiday season puts everyone in the mood to give ... whether it's their time, money or support.

Whatever reason you choose to give, everyone can be a philanthropist and give back to the community. Too many challenging issues impact our communities - hunger, homelessness, health, education, financial stability - we all can make a difference in the lives of those in need and can play a part.

And, did you know doing good makes you feel good, too? Studies show giving back boosts mental health, lowers blood pressure, increases life expectancy and decreases stress!

While so many people choose to give at the end of the year, giving time, talent and treasure can be practiced year-round, as urgent needs goes far beyond the holidays.

Give (Monetary donations)

Donating funds to a charity you trust is often the simplest way to support a cause you care about. Most nonprofits have options for one-time gifts (of any amount), recurring donations and legacy giving. Before giving, check any nonprofit's status with watchdog organizations, such as Charity Navigator or GuideStar.

Thousands of local workplaces host giving campaigns, making it easy for employees to get involved, while promoting the spirit of giving. Companies often match employee donations to make gifts go further, and workplaces frequently collaborate with charities to provide volunteer opportunities, which are a great way to get to know a charity, get involved in a cause you believe in, and get to know coworkers better.

For those looking for more involvement, consider serving on a committee or board of directors. If you have the time, engage with a nonprofit's affinity groups, tailored to specific individuals or issues. For example, United Way of San Diego County's Emerging Leaders Council is targeted for young business professionals looking to network while reaping the rewards of giving and volunteering; the Women's Leadership Council mobilizes its 200 members to give directly to issues that impact women and children; and the Tocqueville Society's major donors are deeply committed community leaders creating change at the highest level.

Advocate (Issues support)

Anyone can help champion a cause and most have already done it - changing your profile picture frame on Facebook, sharing a social justice post or wearing a favorite charity's T-shirt. Even small acts can inspire hope and address/impact the urgent needs of our times.

For those who want to dive deeper, local, state and federal government officials are eager to hear from constituents about what matters to them most. Many nonprofits consider it their civic duty to help ensure decision makers understand community challenges so they can vote accordingly. A nonprofit's public policy committee takes positions on political issues - publicly making their stance for community members to review and consider action. Center for Lobbying in the Public Interest and Alliance for Justice provide a bevy of related guidelines and information.

Volunteer (Donating time/talent)

Volunteers are the sung and unsung heroes of nonprofits. With lean staffs and tight budgets, volunteers collectively provide thousands of hours, which translates to significant savings when nonprofits are able to employ volunteers in the field or in administrative roles. Administrative volunteers in particular are always in high demand, whether it's in IT, operations or special event planning.

Most volunteer opportunities do not require special skills, and training is minimal; however, special talents are always welcome, such as those with musical ability or tax prep certification. United Way's Every Student, Every Day attendance intervention program, which addresses chronic absenteeism, is popular with volunteers -- They don capes and masks and visit partner schools as "superheroes" to encourage every day attendance. This is a fun, fast, one-time volunteer experience kids love and the volunteers may love even more.

During the holiday season, organizations are typically overrun with volunteer requests. It's the other times of year volunteers are needed the most.

Why do people volunteer? Because they really care about a cause, believe in the organization and like the people. And who knows? More than a few have met their sweethearts - or maybe made a new friend - while giving back to their communities.

Whether you give your time, talent and/or treasure, when you get involved you can truly make a difference. San Diego's nonprofits invite you to help solve your communities' greatest challenges and be that difference. Happy Holidays!

Laurie Coskey, Ed.D., is the president and CEO of United Way of San Diego County.

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