Generous gifts

Best ways to give back all year long


By Sarah Sekula, published in Modern Woman magazine // photo by Jess McKee

MaryElla Hunt has a knack for coming up with clever holiday gifts. One year, in fact, the Orlando, Florida, resident symbolically gave geese, pigs, sheep, ducks, chickens and rabbits to her family members.

“For each recipient, I sent little toy plastic versions of the animal I was gifting in their names,” Hunt says.

She says there is something extra special about giving gifts that help those in need.

Todd Bryant, a partner and financial advisor at Signature Wealth Advisors, LLC., agrees. “I prefer donating to local charities that I am familiar with in my community. A charity that I know through my work, an organization that I belong to, or my alma mater. If none of those apply, two great resources to find charities are GuideStar and Charity Navigator.”

“If you have a charity in mind and want to do a quick check to make sure the money will be actually benefiting programs, Charity Navigator has a star-rating system,” says Danielle Di Vito Krise, a certified financial planner with Raymond James & Associates, Inc. “You can also find the CEO salary for the selected charity in dollars, as well as, a percentage of the revenue. If the CEO has a $300,000 salary but it is only .03% of revenue that is more in line than a $75,000 salary that is 6% of revenue.”

Even a little bit of money goes a long way. And of course, the tax deductions are helpful, too. Plus, many charities allow you to make a donation in someone’s name. “They typically give you the option to have the charity send a letter of acknowledgement to them directly,” says Di Vito Krise. “It shows your loved one that you put some thought into the gift, which let’s be honest, the bottle from your wine fridge thrown in last year’s holiday gift bag does not.”

Bryant says keep in mind: Charities need our help all year, not just in December. One way to get the write-off at the end of the year, he says, but continue giving throughout the year, is to establish a donor-advised fund.

“For example, if it’s the end of the year and I’m looking for tax deductions, but I don’t have the time to research who I want to give to, I start a donor-advised fund, put in a min of $5,000 to start, and then later down the road I distribute the funds to whatever charity I choose.”


Feeling inspired? Here are some deserving non profits to consider.

Charity Checks

Recipients receive a certificate and a blank check, so they can decide on the charity.

Children of the Nations

Donations to this non profit help orphaned and destitute children live fuller lives and become leaders.

GIFT IDEAS: Donate village sponsorship, school supplies or blankets in someone’s name.

Heifer International

Heifer provides resources and training that will help lift families out of hunger and poverty.

GIFT IDEAS: Donate a hive of bees or tree seedlings in a friend’s name.

REBUILD Globally

Rebuild Globally fights poverty in Haiti through education and job training.

GIFT IDEAS: Sandals made of upcycled tires, leather clutch, colorful earrings


Rethreaded helps break the cycle of the sex trade by offering viable and creative work to those affected by the sex trade.

GIFT IDEAS: Rwandan Survivor Coffee, leather journal, scarf


This organization’s goal is to end the endangered wildlife trade.

GIFT IDEAS: IvoryFree tees, baby elephant pendant.