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Your Online Guide To Charity And Volunteering This Holiday Season

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Because Christmas is so commercialized, it's easy to get wrapped up in the excitement and obstacles of holiday shopping. And the monster that is holiday shopping can become so all-consuming that the act of charity often falls under the radar.

But before you start predicting the demise of a moral civilization, you may be surprised to know that the Millennials of today are more willing to give money to good causes than previous generations.

And instead of feeling like they should give to chartiy, it seems like they actually want  to. "Our culture is changing pretty dramatically," says Amy Webb, who predicts digital trends for both non and for-profit companies. "That sense of 'I need to give out of obligation'— I don't know that it's going to be around 20 years from now." 

According to the National Philanthropic Trust, 95.4 percent of households give to charity, donating an average of $2,974 annually. In 2013, 31 percent of charitable dollars went to religion, 16 percent went to education, and 12 percent to human services.

Last year, 100 of the largest charities recieved 13 percent more in online donations, and 25 of these charities collected more than $10 million each from online gifts. But in light of the breaches in online security and the amount of Internet scams, it may be hard to navigate through the tangled web of reliable charities.

So give the gift of charity with a little help from this holiday charity guide.

1. Causes

Those who are not sure which charity they would like to donate to should check out reputable giving sites. Giving websites allow people to discover different causes quickly in one convenient hub. Causes is one of the most popular giving websites that links to Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms. By using social media, people who are passionate about like-minded causes can become engaged in making a difference and spreading knowledge about social, political and cultural issues.   

Users create a profile that shows what causes they care about. These range from human and animal rights, environmentalism, cancer research, LBGT rights and the legalization of marijuana. After choosing the causes and organizations you support, campaigns are suggested in a news feed. All donations, no matter the size, are processed through Network for Good. 

2.Go Fund Me

Go Fund Me takes the top spot for fundraising sites for personal causes. With no campaign deadlines or limitations, users raise $1 million on the platform each day. Even though this San Diego-based is a for-profit company, it only deducts a 5 percent fee from donations.

Besides personal causes, Go Fund Me also supports charity fundraising. The charities listed have all been certified and include their tax ID number. Users are asked to create a profile where they too can share their campaigns on social media. There is also a free app available so you can give on the go.

3. Just Give  

One of the first nonprofits to enter online giving, Just Give's database features more than 1.8 million charities. The site lists charities that meet IRS standards that are organized within 19 causes to make finding the right charity quick and easy. These include clean drinking water, feeding the hungry or encouraging learning. After clicking on a collection, the user can donate as much as they wish (With a $10 minium) to the best charities for that cause. Donors can click on the organization to read their mission and programs.

The site features secure servers to protect your financial info and will it keep your identity safe if you wish to donate anoymously. Even though you plan to give out of the kindness of your heart, the site also allows you to track your tax deductible donations that can be printed anytime. 

4. Do Something

Instead of donating money, how about donating your time? Do Something is the site to go to if you want to help the world "suck less." This organization is very popular, especially among Millennials who are looking to volunteer for social change. The site is quirky with a light sense of humor, which is an added bonus.

The causes you can support actually have you doing something so you can feel like you are giving back in a real way. These include collecting jeans for homeless youth, playing musical chairs to reduce school bullying, collecting cell phones for domestic violence programs and helping the elderly learn how to email. The site explains the cause, gives you the steps to plan the good deed and gives you tips to do it. We suggest signing up for the "Cool Carol Crew" to sing Christmas songs to older adults who are alone this holiday.  

5. Crowdrise

Crowdrise not only is a platform for an event, person, or team fundraising, but it also sponsors volunteerism. Browse through fundraising categories or create your own. The Crowdrise community was named one of the "Top 25 Best Global Philanthropist" by Barron's and with high-profile fundraisers like co-founder Edward Norton, you can find your fav celeb and help them raise money or start your own  good cause.

What makes this crowdfunding site stand out is its point system feature, where points are earned for every dollar raised or donated. Collect enough points and you could get prizes like electronics or gift cards. Who knew giving could be so rewarding!

Now that your heart is set on giving to charity this holiday, make sure never to donate to charities you know nothing about to avoid a scam. Read their mission statement, if they are for or non-profit, their accomplishments and board of directors to check their credibility. Make sure that the website has a secure network with encryption technology to protect your credit card information. Do this by making sure the URL starts with "https," the "s" standing for secure.

You can also volunteer in your local community through the Red Cross, or donate to major campaigns and charities like Make a Wish, St. Jude, American Cancer Society or ASPCA to name a few. 

Happy giving!

[Photo Credit: HM Revenue & Customs/Flickr]

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