Tis the Season of Giving: Is it Better to Volunteer or Donate?

Tis the Season of Giving: Is it Better to Volunteer or Donate?

As we begin to embark on holiday celebrations and look toward the new year, there’s no better way to end the year than by giving back. Take this holiday season to make a difference in the lives of people experiencing hardships.

Volunteering or donating has a positive effect on your psyche. There’s definitely a feel-good moment connected to giving—whether it’s monetary donations or volunteer hours. The fact is, giving to others physically gives us pleasure and makes us happier.

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Studies consistently show there is a physiological reason we feel good with acts of charity. It’s known as our pleasure and reward response, which is triggered by brain chemistry that recognizes rewarding stimuli. Researchers refer to this as the “helper’s high” and “giver’s glow.” One study even found that when you make a charitable donation, your brain acts in a similar way to when you eat chocolate. (Source: greatergood.berkeley.edu)

Should I Volunteer or Donate?
Are you more likely to give away your time or your money? Are you an advocate like Bono of U2, or a philanthropist like Bill Gates? An influencer like Oprah, or an aid worker like Mother Theresa? This is the time of year when a bit of introspection can help guide you in how you can approach the giving season.

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A simple answer to these questions might be that when you have the money and not the time, you donate, and when you have the time and not much money, you choose to volunteer.

Questions to Ask Before Volunteering

Volunteering offers a unique set of opportunities to those who welcome it. Some questions you might ask before volunteering include:

  • How much time do I have?
  • Do I want to work alone or with a group?
  • Do I want an ongoing assignment or a one-time/short assignment?
  • Where can I make a difference?
  • What do I want to learn most from the experience?
  • What do I care about?
  • Does this opportunity fit within my vision and ethics?
  • Can I speak with previous volunteers? (Big red flag if you can’t!)


There are more than 1.5 million nonprofits operating in the U.S., according to the National Center for Charitable Statistics. With such a crowded marketplace, how do you choose which one(s) to give to? Knowing what you are passionate about is a good place to start. When you’ve narrowed down your list, learn more about each candidate by asking these questions:

  • What do you do?
  • What are the annual goals and needs?
  • How much employee/board member turnover have you experienced in the last two years?
  • What’s your most successful program and why?
  • How do you measure the progress of your programs?
  • How do you communicate with donors?

Online Giving

People are more open-hearted now than at any other time of the year – 30% of all donations occur in the month of December. #GivingTuesday is a global day of giving fueled by the power of social media and collaboration. (In 2022, it was held on November 29.) Last year, $2.7 billion dollars was raised on Giving Tuesday. The online average gift amounts exceeded $128.

Ways to Give That Won’t Break Your Budget

If your budget won’t allow monetary donations, consider giving your time. Many charitable organizations survive through the efforts of volunteers. Some need more volunteers than normal during the holidays to help cook or serve the holiday meal, or to gather goods collected from holiday food drives.

You can always try one of the more traditional methods of giving as well:

  • Donate your skills
  • Give blood
  • Donate your stuff
  • Organize a drive
  • Raise funds
  • Become an organ donor
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