With the holiday season just around the corner, many Clevelanders are already looking for ways to give back and get involved in their community. But with so many nonprofits and events to choose from, how do you decide on the right fit for you and your family? What opportunity will have the most impact not just on those you’re serving or donating to, but also on you and/or your group?

We asked Jaime Buxton, volunteer services supervisor at The City Mission to share the best four ways to give back during the 2019 holidays. The City Mission has been a stronghold in Cleveland’s nonprofit scene for almost 110 years now, and as the organization’s Celebrator Extraordinaire (unofficial title), she knows a thing or two about connecting people to the right fit for their time and budget.

1.Start by Doing Your Research

A quick search for nonprofits in the greater Cleveland area on greatnonprofits.org reveals about 500 results – and that list only includes the NPO’s that have take the time to create an account on Great Nonprofits website! No one has time to sift through hundreds of organizations, so how do you find a cause that’s close to your heart and home?

Buxton shares some advice. “Everyone is unique. We each feel drawn to a certain cause, so take the time to get to know the different organizations.”

Beyond a simple web search, a great way to learn is by talking with friends and family about places they have served or donated in the past. Ask why they chose to support the organization and how they have seen their gifts make a difference.

Taking a few minutes to research an organization’s financial spending habits might also help you decide where to put your support. The Better Business Bureau standards for accountability require that a nonprofit spend less than 35 percent of their finances on fundraising – meaning that at least 65 percent of donations should be used directly to care for their clients or cause.  This information can usually be found on a nonprofit’s annual report or finance section of their website.

After narrowing down your choices, Buxton says it is time to begin reaching out to your top five organizations to learn where and when their needs are this holiday season.

2. Be Ready to Volunteer on Days Aside from Thanksgiving and Christmas 

When you pick up the phone or send an email to inquire about a holiday volunteer opportunity, be prepared to be flexible.

“Agencies are inundated with people that want to volunteer on actual holiday dates like Thanksgiving and Christmas, but don’t realize that many of our clients have families that they spend those days with,” Buxton says. “At The City Mission, we target specific days with clients’ and volunteers’ schedules in mind to maximize the holiday festivities and fun for those we serve.”

Buxton shares that one example of this type of event is The City Mission’s annual Christmas Fair at Laura’s Home Women’s Crisis Center. This event allows over 100 volunteers to be involved in preparation for the holidays, and provides an opportunity for person-to-person connection with their clients. The Christmas Fair is also structured to build dignity for moms at Laura’s Home.

“Our Christmas Fair is special, and I think unique, as we create a shopping room at Laura’s Home and give the gift of choice to mothers. Moms are asked to contribute 25 cents toward each gift for their children, and a personal shopper volunteer assists her in the experience,” explains Buxton. “A donor handing out gifts is generous and appreciated, but allowing a mom to choose those gifts for her children is truly something special. I understand that so much more now as a mother myself.”

Many nonprofit organizations in Greater Cleveland also host events to celebrate the holidays, but the truth is, donation and service needs exist all year long!  Dive in during this festive time, and then consider how you can continue to make a difference in people’s lives January through October as well.

3. Give Gifts that are Truly Needed

Serving with your time is not the only place to be flexible when it comes to meeting an organization’s needs. If what you really want to give this year is a Christmas present to a man, woman, or child,

Buxton has a critical piece of advice: “Get to know the agency you want to donate to and actually ask them what their urgent needs are. It seems so simple, but it’s often a crucial step that’s overlooked.”

She goes on to share, “One of our greatest needs year-round, that many people wouldn’t think of, is for $5.50 All Day Bus Passes. This allows the men and women we serve to do what they need to do to improve their quality of life and to do it on their own.”

Another answer you might receive from a nonprofit is a request to purchase a gift for their adult clients. While many of us have a heart for children, the power of a gift for a struggling man or woman can make all the difference in their recovery journey.

Buxton reflects on this point by saying, “Christmas is a time for us to more than just provide for life’s necessities. A gift of perfume, a wallet, a new notebook, or new clothing can be so significant. When the men and women in our program know that someone cared enough to buy them a gift and give them a second chance, it can be all the encouragement they need to keep going another day.”

4. Consider How Your Financial Gifts Will Make an Impact All Year Long

While buying a physical gift for a man, woman, or child might be the most fun way to participate in the holiday spirit of giving, it is important to keep in mind that organizations have critical daily needs that require financial gifts. “The other 363 days a year aside from Thanksgiving and Christmas, nonprofits are working hard to keep the lights on,” Buxton reminds us. “At The City Mission we provide individualized casework, childcare, meals, job experience, group therapy, and much more. And we’re entirely privately funded. Without donations from the community, we’re not able to provide the resources that empower people to a transformed life.”

The holiday season is the perfect time to commit to making a difference in people’s lives throughout the year with financial support – whether that’s a one-time donation or a recurring gift. Consider what you could give up (that extra latte or scoop of ice cream) to become a monthly donor to an organization you believe in. For example, at The City Mission, being a Hope Partner at just over 20 dollars a month means that you provide 120 meals a year. And is knowing that you are giving someone a much-needed fresh start not better than one night of takeout?

Getting Started

Now that you have the knowledge, you are ready to discover the best ways for you and your crew to serve this year! Whether you choose to support a cause through a donation, volunteering, or both, do your research, stay flexible, and consider how you can make an impact year-round. By working together and keeping these tips in mind, we will undoubtedly create a Greater Cleveland this Christmas.

P.S. Jaime Buxton would love to connect with you if you are interested in serving at The City Mission this year! Email her at connect@thecitymission.org to start the conversation, or visit www.thecitymission.org/holiday-help to see four simple ways to get involved.

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