The holidays are a time for giving— and, not just to those you love, but to those in need as well.

Donating your time, tangible items such as food or clothing, or even cash can be more than enough to help individuals and organizations in need during the holidays. But, determining the best way to make use of both your time and resources isn’t always an easy thing to do.

For some, the issue is time. Finding the time to engage in a charitable cause isn’t always the easy if you have a full-time job, have kids or have any other obligations that can eat away at your waking hours.

Or, maybe your predicament is that you have more than enough time, but no money to give. Helping those causes nearest and dearest to your heart may be a challenge, but maybe you’ve been afflicted with an unexpected job loss or expenses and can’t afford to make a donation on behalf of the charity of your choosing.

Perhaps you have both time and money, but haven’t been able to find a cause that resonates with you enough to make you want to give. Whatever your specific giving dilemma may be, here are some creative, time- and cost-effective ways that you can get either yourself and your loved ones into the spirit of giving during the holidays:

Give A Charity Gift Card

Maybe you have a friend that seems to have everything. If that’s the case, consider purchasing them a gift card that can be used exclusively to make a charitable donation to the organization of your choice. One organization, the Network for Good, sells gift cards online called Good Cards that can be redeemed at more than 1.2 million charities across the country and world. The minimum card value that can be purchased is $10, can be filled in increments of $5 and can hold a maximum of $250. Just make sure that your Good Card recipient makes a donation within 6 months of when the card is purchased to avoid losing the card’s value.

Another organization,, works similarly, but is geared specifically towards public schools in need. All you have to do is go on the organization’s website and purchase a 100% tax-deductible GivingCard, load it up with funds. Upon presenting the card to your gift recipient, they’ll be able to sift through hundreds of classroom projects submitted online by teachers across the country and make charitable donations towards their favorite causes.

Donors can use the organization’s online search tool to pick one or more school projects to make a donation of as little as $1 to help. For example, one online projects involved raising funds to help a Los Angeles-area school purchase a projector screen. Those interested in giving a GivingCard to their loved ones this year should make sure to purchase one by Dec. 19 to receive the card before Christmas. recently teamed up with Chase Bank and G-Team—Groupon’s philanthropic segment—for a seven-day online giving event geared towards funding science, technology, engineering and mathematics projects for needs classrooms across the country. Through the project, Chase Bank (NYSE: JPM) will provide $40 for every $10 donation made to through G-Team, up to $500,000. From now until Sunday, December 4, you can buy a $50 Donors Choose gift card for just $10.

Get Your Workplace Involved

Getting your workplace involved in the spirit of giving is another great way to be charitable this holiday season without having to sacrifice too much, especially time. If you plan to make a monetary donation then check with your human resources department to determine if your workplace will match any charitable donations you’re already planning to make during the holidays. Better yet, if your place of work does match donations then try beginning some sort of donation office pool to get your colleagues involved.

Another way to get your office involved during the holidays is through group volunteering events. What employer with a heart would turn down the opportunity to allow his or her staff to volunteer time, resources, or both to help those in need? Getting your office involved in volunteering is a practical way to incorporate giving into your schedule while bonding with your colleagues.

Turn Your Unused Goods Into A Contribution

If you have a lot of time and not too much money then the best way to give this year could be to donate non-cash items to the charity of your choosing. One important aspect of this is determining which of your unused items should go to which charity. If you have a lot of higher end clothing, furniture and jewelry then you may want to avoid donating such items to organizations such as Goodwill or the Salvation Army since their thrift stores tend to indiscriminately sell donated items at bargain prices.

Instead, you should consider selling higher end items yourself and donating the proceeds to charity. Another option is to target organizations that will appropriately price your high end items (for example, New York-based Housing Works, which works to combat both the spread of AIDS and homelessness). Just make sure to obtain a receipt from the organization you make a donation to so that you won’t miss out on the tax benefits you are eligible to receive for your charitable contributions.

Sure, the holidays can be pretty busy (and expensive) but with these tips you can find a simple and effective way to give to those in need without becoming one in need yourself.

Carolyn Okomo is a personal finance writer and the Tuesday columnist for You can follow her tweets @CarolynMBT..

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