The holidays aren't just about spending time with loved ones and exchanging gifts. It's also a time to make the world a better place -- not just through what you do as a business, but through what you can do as people.
You don't have to be a billionaire philanthropist to give back. In fact, there are several meaningful and impactful ways to change the world by helping your community this holiday season -- without spending a fortune.
1. Volunteer your time.
The best way to grow your heart three times bigger this holiday season? Volunteer your time.
I understand that time is limited right now. But you could spend a couple of hours volunteering your energy or skills to a local shelter devoted to helping animals, homeless people or survivors of domestic violence on a Saturday or Sunday morning. Speaking of your four-legged friends, bring them along with you when visiting a senior home. Other volunteering opportunities could include working with a local youth group or working with an organization like Meals on Wheels.
You could also provide volunteering days for your employees. Conduct a poll or survey to see which local nonprofit your team would most be interested in working with. After that, schedule a date and time where you and your team volunteer rather than work. Not only will this benefit your community, but it will also do wonders for employees' health and wellness.
2. Donate to community causes.
There are several ways that you can donate to organizations besides monetarily. You could give blood at your local Red Cross; most regional hospitals also have blood donation centers. You could also donate food, toys or clothing to the less fortunate in your area. I'm also a big fan of dropping a bag of dog food at my local animal shelter.
Also, consider donating cleaning supplies and toiletries to local homeless centers and women's shelters. These are items that are greatly needed but often overlooked.
3. Provide a drive-thru surprise.
The next time you're waiting for your morning cup of coffee, pay for the person behind you. This random act of kindness may not seem like much, but it has the potential to send a ripple effect of kindness through your community.
Even if your generosity isn't contagious, Jennifer Nelson explains that "helping strangers can come with fringe benefits either way -- showing family and friends how kind you can be to others, making your community stronger, feeling happier and maybe even changing the small social network that makes up your world."
4. Adopt a family.
Many organizations, including the Salvation Army, offer Adopt-a-Family programs. These match sponsors with local families who are disadvantaged or have experienced a tragedy within the past year. The adopting sponsors provide anything or everything needed, from presents to clothing to hygiene products.
5. Purchase gifts that give back.
During the holidays, it's not unusual for companies to be more generous. Usually, this is in the form of donating a percentage of sales to a nonprofit. For example, Patagonia has committed to donating 1 percent of sales from its Fisherman's beanie to nonprofit environmental groups.
In your community, support businesses -- like your supermarket or favorite restaurant -- that are also in the giving spirit by donating a portion of your sales to local nonprofits.
6. Show your gratitude.
My grandparents used to leave their mailperson and garbage collectors a thank-you note with a tip. This is a tradition that I carry on. It's a small gesture to show your appreciation for all of their hard work throughout the year. Remember that these people work through sweltering summers and freezing winters to collect your waste or deliver your mail.
You could also show your gratitude by dropping off cookies at your local fire department, doubling your tip for your regular server or surprising your employees with a larger-than-expected bonus in lieu of a membership to the Jelly of the Month Club.
7. Ask, "Won't you be my neighbor?"
An elderly couple lives near me. When it snows, I take the time to shovel their walkway so they have a clear path and don't endanger themselves doing the work. Other selfless acts you could do for your neighbors include helping them put up outdoor decorations, carrying in the groceries or even offering to babysit so they can finish their last-minute shopping.
If you don't know your neighbors, this is the perfect time to introduce yourself by bringing over a tray of holiday treats or a small gift, like a houseplant.
8. Support local businesses.
Shopping online is definitely convenient, but don't neglect local businesses. Shopping locally is an easy way to support your local economy. In fact, according to MetroFamily Magazine, "For every $100 spent at a locally-owned business, $73 remains in the local economy. What's more, the sales tax from these local businesses goes towards services like street repairs, fire and police protection, and trash collection."
Also, local businesses are more likely to support nonprofits. "Studies show that nonprofits receive 250 percent more support from small businesses than large ones," Sue Lynn Sasser, Ph.D., professor of economics at the University of Central Oklahoma, told the magazine.
9. Invite someone to your home.
Coping with loneliness during the holidays is a struggle for individuals, particularly those who have lost a loved one or are empty nesters. If you have a friend, colleague or neighbor who's spending the holidays alone, invite that person to your home to celebrate. It may not seem like much, but it will mean the world to just be asked.
10. Become a mentor.
Is there someone within your company who could benefit from your skills, experience or knowledge? If so, find the time to become a mentor. Helping others professionally isn't just beneficial for your protégé -- it's also a rewarding experience for you. It can help you develop your emotional intelligence and take in new perspectives.
Outside of work, you could mentor people in your community through organizations like Big Brothers Big Sisters or through industry networking groups.
As you can see, there are plenty of opportunities for you to spread some holiday cheer without breaking your budget. Not only will giving back make someone's day, but it will also improve your community and lift your spirits, ushering in a more fulfilling new year.