Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

If you’ve spent any time watching television during the holidays, odds are you’ve seen at least one advertisement within the past few weeks about donating to a charity of some sort. There are, of course, the commercials that plead for starving children in Africa. Then there are the adorably cuddly puppies. Or the commercials that advocate donations to help old Jewish women living in Russia — my personal nominee this year for the Least Stereotypically Pity-Inducing Award.

The reason why these ads pop up now (or at least, why they were popping up a week ago) is because there has historically been a brief surge of giving around the holiday months. In one survey, 52 percent of surveyed charities reported that they received more than a quarter of their annual contributions during the last three months of the year. That means that a disproportionate share of a charity’s income comes during the months of October, November and December.

Many of these donations are driven by the sense of giving inspired by the holiday season. Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah and the other holidays that occupy these months feature charity and generosity as significant parts of their identities. This spurs people to think about giving, which may not have ordinarily crossed their mind. When people do so, they find out that making a donation leaves them with a warm, fuzzy feeling inside, like being surrounded by purring (but hypoallergenic!) kittens. This feeling of contentedness is one that many people experience and numerous studies have documented.

After the holidays, though, charitable giving declines, and we forget about why we felt that contentment in the first place. We think about how much time that shift at the community garden takes, worry about whether we have the money to give another donation to the fight against hunger and throw up walls that prevent us from feeling happy and explain away why we can’t possibly be bothered to donate again, or at least until the next holiday season. If we think that giving back is going to be more effort than it’s worth, then we simply don’t do it.

So instead of throwing up those walls, make like Mikhail Gorbachev and tear them down. Charity should be enjoyable and something to look forward to, and it’s up to you to make it so. Here are easy ways to make donating — well, easier.

Be flexible

Charitable contributions don’t exist in only one form. If you’ve just taken on a second job in addition to being a full-time student and you find your time spent volunteering at a community garden is more stressful than relaxing, then you may want to consider dialing it back in some fashion. That doesn’t mean you can’t help in other ways. If the volunteer work you do is extremely tiring — say, piloting a wheelbarrow filled with heavy equipment up and down a slope the size of Mt. Everest — try to see if there’s a different opportunity at the same place available to you. Or volunteer at the same time as your friends to divvy up some of the labor and take your mind off the hard stuff. As a last option, you could consider replacing your donations of time with donations of money. Charity organizations need both to do their job effectively, and you can always switch back to volunteering once the stress dies down.

Find your passions

It’s a lot more exciting to get involved when the issue is something you care about, whether it’s ending cancer, donating blood, fighting hunger, increasing sustainability, reading to children, comforting animals or anything else you can think of. Fortunately, there are a ton of official organizations, student organizations, official student organizations and everything in between. Unfortunately, sometimes it’s hard to know that they exist. Highlander Link has a full list of officially registered clubs on campus, and is one place you can go to get basic details about clubs.

On a national and international level, a good place to start is Charity Navigator. The site contains information on a number of charities interested in all sorts of areas, and even ranks them. If you want to get into more detail, a useful source is Guide Star, through which you can view tax information of charities for free (you do need to register an account, though). Whether you go local or global, it’s best to pick a handful of organizations whose goals you’re interested in and you can get really familiar with.

Expand your definition of charity

Charity ddoesn’thave to be through an official organization. There are really simple things you can do in your everyday life to help people out. For instance, the food service industry is one of the most stressful and worst-paying jobs in the country — so if you go out to eat, consider tipping your server an extra dollar or two than you ordinarily would if he or she does a good job. It may be only a dollar to you, but you’ll certainly make that person’s day. If you have the resources and tools, you can help someone whose car broke down, or buy them a gallon of gas so they can at least get to a gas station.

However you decide to do it, don’t make it a one-time deal. Make giving, whether it’s a trip to a blood drive or simply giving your spare change to the person ringing the Salvation Army bell, part of your routine. Charity isn’t just for the holidays, and no matter how you decide to help, you’ll feel better — and so will the people you’re helping out.