Mellody Hobson: Giving Back for the Holidays

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As the saying goes, it is better to give than get.

But in reality, especially during the holiday season, Americans would rather spend and receive than give.

In fact, statistics show that Americans spend $8 billion on Christmas decorations -- almost four times what they give to protect animals and the environment.

For those looking to give to charity, Mellody Hobson offers some advice on how to make a difference this holiday season and explains how you can do something to make a difference in the lives of others.

Donate Your Unused Vacation Time

Yes, this is a terrific option -- as long as you do it before Dec. 31, 2006. The Internal Revenue Service allows workers to donate unused vacation time and sick days for victims of Hurricane Katrina.

Employers can convert the donated time into cash contributions to charities, and workers can deduct the amount donated from their federal tax returns.

This is an excellent way to use up those vacation days you know you will never get around to taking -- for charitable and taxable reasons!

Give to Charity by Searching the Internet for Your Holiday Gifts

There is a search engine called Goodsearch.com that donates 50 percent of its revenue to charities and schools designated by its users.

Basically, once you designate and verify the charitable organization that you would like to help, Goodsearch will donate about 1 cent for every search you make.

A penny does not sound like a lot, but the site is all about numbers -- the more supporters you can find for your organization who are willing to use Goodsearch for their Internet searches, the more money you will raise.

For example, if an organization can rally 500 people to use the search engine, and the users do five Web searches a day, the organization could raise more than $9,000!

Think of all the money that could be raised this holiday season while you and your friends and family are surfing the Web for gift ideas!

Buy From Retailers Who Are Giving Back

Many designers and retailers partner with various causes.

The most recent example is The Gap's "Red" campaign.

The Gap has committed to contributing half the profits from sales of its Red product line to the Global Fund to help women and children affected by HIV/AIDS in Africa.

Another instance of this type of partnership is "Think Pink" items, which raise money for breast cancer.

For example, Coach, the leather goods and accessory retailer, has designed a "breast cancer" wristwatch that retails for $395.

For each watch sold between now and Dec. 31, Coach will donate $100 to The Breast Cancer Research Foundation.

By selecting gifts with a purpose, you are not only able to give your friends and family interesting gifts, but you can also support worthy causes.

Give Back by Sending Out Holiday Cards

Not only are there holiday cards that benefit certain organizations, but the U.S. Post Office currently offers fundraising stamps geared toward three causes: Breast Cancer Research, Heroes of 2001 and Stop Family Violence.

Even though you spend a bit more on these stamps -- 45 cents per stamp rather than the usual 39 cents -- the profits generated from sales are then transferred to the designated organization(s) affiliated with each cause.

For example, in the case of the Breast Cancer Research stamp, 70 percent of the net amount raised is given to the National Institutes of Health, while the remaining 30 percent goes to the medical research program at the Department of Defense.

How Can You Participate if Money Is Tight?

If your budget is tight this year, rather than charging up more credit card debt in an effort to give to your friends and family, suggest forgoing gifts and agree to volunteer together at a nonprofit.

Not only will you be able to share in the holiday spirit with your loved ones, but you will also be providing assistance to those who need it most.

Another idea is to issue "gift certificates" to friends and family, offering your time to baby-sit or help with housework, yard work, and other special projects.

Should You Buy Your Kids Stock Instead of Toys?

This may not be realistic for your own child, but I would absolutely recommend this when it comes to giving a gift to a grandchild, niece or nephew.

A typical American child receives 70 new toys a year! There is not a better stocking stuffer than a stock certificate from a company that your child is familiar with -- it is educational and financially rewarding.

For example, you can buy stock directly from Mattel Inc. for your nephew instead of the hot toy that he is sure to forget.

Likewise, buy your father-in-law a share of stock directly from Home Depot instead of a new power drill.

Gifts of stock are a low-price gift that makes a big impact. I like to think of them as a present for the future.

Mellody Hobson, president of Ariel Capital Management in Chicago (www.arielmutualfunds.com) is "Good Morning America's" personal finance expert.

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