Carrie Schwab Pomerantz
Dear Carrie: My friends and I have agreed to give charitable donations for the holidays instead of physical presents. What's the best way to do this? -- A Reader

Dear Reader: What a great way to put the true spirit of the holidays back in focus. Gift-giving has become so stressful -- and expensive -- the whole reason for giving a gift often gets lost in the rush and worry of the season. So I applaud you and your friends for wanting to share your good fortune with others, while, at the same time, acknowledging each other in a special way.

But just because you won't be hitting the malls and combing the stores for just the right scarf or sweater, it doesn't mean you don't need to give a lot of thought to your gifts; in fact, it's the thought you put into choosing a charity that's meaningful to the recipient that will make this type of gift truly memorable.

SET SOME GIFT-GIVING GUIDELINES

With this in mind, I suggest you and your friends get together ahead of time to set some parameters. For instance, are you all going to give gifts to each other or will you draw names? Will you set a financial limit on your gifts, say $50 or $100? Since it's likely you have different levels of discretionary income, this might make everyone feel more comfortable.

You could also consider buying a small physical gift in addition to making a charitable donation. There's no right or wrong way to go about this, but all of you should agree upfront so that everyone feels equally included.

MAKE IT PERSONAL

It's one thing to write a check to a charity in someone's name and another to choose just the right charity to represent that individual's interests. You won't have to be thinking about what colors friends looks good in, but you can give equally careful thought to their beliefs and personal causes. Is it saving wildlife? Feeding the hungry? A special program for kids or teens? Do they volunteer at a specific organization?

There's so much to choose from, and every community has a myriad of worthy local programs on top of the well-known national charities. Take the time to research creditable organizations using your unique insight into what's most meaningful to your friend. You might also write a short note describing why you chose a particular charity for a certain person. It then becomes a very personal gift.

EXPLORE DIFFERENT WAYS TO GIVE


Carrie Schwab Pomerantz

Carrie Schwab Pomerantz is a Motley Fool contributor.

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