Holiday Giving Guide: 11 Charities That Make Every Penny Count


Do you have someone on your holiday shopping list who’s difficult to buy for? We’ve all been there: you want to give your loved ones something meaningful… something more useful than a coffee mug but more personal than a gift card. For a unique gift that just might change the world, skip the kitschy knickknacks this year and make a charitable donation in your loved one’s name instead. (P.S. All the charities on our shortlist have a perfect score of 100 on Charity Navigator, so you know your donation will be put to good use!)

Asha for Education – Walnut, CA

For a charity that’s doing meaningful work abroad, look no further than Asha for Education. Their mission: promoting education for underprivileged children in India. In addition to providing educational opportunities for kids, Asha seeks to address “other issues affecting human life, such as healthcare, environment, socio-economic aspects, and women’s issues.” If you’d like to volunteer your time, you won’t have to catch a plane to do it; there are 50+ active Asha for Education chapters around the world.

Donate to Asha
Join or start a local Asha chapter
Apply for an Asha internship in India

Cure Alzheimer’s Fund – Wellesley Hills, MA

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, over five million Americans are currently living with Alzheimer’s Disease, with a new diagnosis every 66 seconds. The association predicts this figure will nearly triple as the baby boomer generation continues to age unless a cure is found. That’s where the Cure Alzheimer’s Fund comes in. Their mission is to fund research “with the highest probability of preventing, slowing, or reversing Alzheimer’s disease.” As of 2016, the fund has contributed $45 million to various research efforts. Truly remarkable!

Donate to the Cure Alzheimer’s Fund
Explore Cure Alzheimer’s Fund events

volunteer putting food in a donation box

Central Illinois Foodbank – Springfield, IL 

The Central Illinois Foodbank, member of Feeding America, is working to ensure everyone in the Prairie State gets enough to eat this holiday season. In addition to collecting donated food items for those in need, the food bank organizes several community events per year, including the annual Harvest Ball. If you’d like to donate time or funds to this worthy cause on a loved one’s behalf, you can get started online right now.

Donate to Central Illinois Foodbank
Volunteer with Central Illinois Foodbank

Food Bank for the Heartland – Omaha, NE

Food Bank for the Heartland is leading the fight against food insecurity in two Midwestern states. This food distribution hub helps stock 530 food pantries, schools, emergency shelters and nonprofit partners across Nebraska and western Iowa. In 2016 alone, Food Bank for the Heartland delivered 15.8 million meals to more than 250,000 people in need. If you’d like to help ensure that nobody goes hungry this holiday season, you can purchase personalized holiday cards from Food Bank for the Heartland. The proceeds go directly toward combating hunger in the local community.

Donate to Food Bank for the Heartland
Volunteer with Food Bank for the Heartland

MAP International – Brunswick, GA

Christian organization MAP International is focused on “providing medicines, preventing disease, and promoting health to create real hope and lasting change.” Their efforts are concentrated in some of the world’s poorest communities, with initiatives spanning from disaster relief efforts to development of community health programs. Through their Medicines Program, MAP International offers kits filled with crucial over-the-counter medicines available for purchase by missionaries, students, and churches working abroad. Each subsidized kit can treat approximately 375 people.

Donate to MAP International

Lama Eating Out Of The Hand Of A Boy.Nashville Zoo – Nashville, TN

Here’s one for the animal lovers. The Nashville Zoo aims “to inspire a culture of understanding and discovery of our natural world through conservation, innovation and leadership.” If their volunteer roster is any indication, it’s working: the zoo reported nearly 4,500 volunteers in 2015. The Nashville Zoo is home to 2,285 animals across 365 species, as well as a variety of youth programs, camps, and community outreach efforts. If your loved one adores lions, tigers, and bears (oh my!), you can donate on their behalf or sign up to volunteer in just a few clicks.

Donate to the Nashville Zoo
Volunteer with the Nashville Zoo

Fauna & Flora International, Inc. – Chevy Chase, MD

Need a gift for a family member who loves animals? Consider contributing to Fauna & Flora International (FFI) in their name. This conservation organization takes action to protect endangered species and their ecosystems. FFI partners with 40 countries and countless communities around the world, offering sustainable solutions to challenges facing biodiversity. Their global initiatives include marine conservation, illegal wildlife trade, eco-friendly farming and climate change — just to name a few. If you’d like to help FFI in addition to a cash donation, there are plenty more ways to get involved.

Donate to FFI
Become an FFI member

Southern Environmental Law Center – Charlottesville, VA

The Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) leverages legal knowledge to protect the landscape of the Southern United States. From the Smoky Mountains to the Carolina coast, 70 SELC attorneys work diligently to create, strengthen and enforce policies that protect the environment. This non-profit organization is actively involved in more than 200 cases across the Southeast, covering pressing issues like renewable energy, clean drinking water and wetland conservation. The SELC has already done remarkable work for the region. Your donation ensures a healthy future for America’s southern states and the people who live there.

Donate to Southern Environmental Law Center

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. Group of four kids on wooden

Place of Hope – Palm Beach Gardens, FL 

True to its name, Place of Hope is a safe haven for local children who have suffered abuse or neglect. The organization uses a unique faith-based, family-focused approach to provide hope and support for more than 300 kids each day. Since its inception, Place of Hope has touched the lives of more than 10,000 people and helped 178 children find their forever families. In the spirit of the holidays, you can purchase a gift from a Place of Hope child’s wish list. For some kids, it just might be their first-ever Christmas present.

Donate to Place of Hope
Volunteer with Place of Hope

Adler Aphasia Center – Maywood, NJ

A donation to the Adler Aphasia Center could be the perfect gift to help those affected by aphasia. The organization fosters hope for those living with aphasia by breaking down communication barriers and creating opportunities to rebuild relationships. As one of the few aphasia-friendly communities in the world, the Adler Aphasia Center supports research, offers speech pathology programs and sponsors education initiatives. Thanks to support from donors and volunteers, the center has become a leader in meeting the long-term needs of people living with this language disorder.

Donate to Adler Aphasia Center
Volunteer with Adler Aphasia Center

Equal Justice Initiative – Montgomery, AL 

The Equal Justice Initiative’s goal is threefold: “ending mass incarceration… challenging racial and economic injustice, and protecting basic human rights for the most vulnerable people in American society.” In pursuit of that goal, EJI produces reports, videos, and other educational materials, and acts as a resource for policymakers working toward criminal justice reform. In addition, EJI has purchased six acres to build The Memorial to Peace and Justice, expected to open to visitors in 2018.

Donate to the Equal Justice Initiative
Explore EJI reports
Explore EJI videos


About Author


Kara graduated from Clemson University with degrees in English and Communication Studies. As any good Tiger alumna would, she live-tweets every Clemson football game and wears way too much orange. When she’s not training to become a Pokémon master, she creates content to help bridge the gap between the real world and the virtual world.

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