9 Ways to Give Better
Slightly altering how you donate your time or money boosts the real benefits to the organizations you support.
Celebrate the Holidays by Not Volunteering
We all want to help out when the whole world—meter maids and landlords included—feels infused with joy and gratitude. This is why soup kitchens and retirement homes are overrun with volunteers during Thanksgiving and the December holidays. Consider lending a hand during slower, lonelier times instead, like January (the stay-at-home month) or the summer (the travel and beach season), when your energy and efforts will be most appreciated.
Living Room
The Group Gift Hug
Pooling money with neighbors, family or friends makes a bigger impact on the cause you're supporting and boosts the sense of accomplishment you'll feel about what you're all doing. (Building, say, a whole house for somebody instead of just a basement sure can give you the warm fuzzies.) Not to mention it's a way to celebrate a sense of community as well as generosity. Don't have time to organize your own circle? Join an already formed one on Giving Circles Network which lists more than 250.

Cash, Not Cans
Two-serving cans of food—the kind we all keep in our cupboards and then give away during food drives at schools and churches—are really expensive when you factor in price per ounce. Food pantries get a lot more beans or tuna for the buck when they buy in larger, industrial sizes. So donate cash, not cans—and let them stock the shelves with the bulk items they need most.
Double Down
Most companies match at least some of your 401(k) contributions, but many also match your charity dollars—allowing you to double your gift. Investigate whether your employer participates in this kind of program, and if it doesn't, bring up the idea at, say, the office holiday party—when everyone is feeling jolly.
Not Everybody Wants a Pig
It seems as though anyone would love a piglet for Christmas—or at least a picture of the one that is soon to help a farmer in Uganda start his own business, thanks to your donation in another person's name. But what if that person doesn't love livestock? What if she'd prefer a well in China or 10 vaccinations in Laos? With the Global Giving Gift Card, your friends and family can pick the projects they wish to support—and on top of the giving karma, you'll earn a dollop of gratitude for being thoughtful.
Going, Going, Given
Bid on just about anything—from a black Coach handbag to an original signed Elvis print—and give a portion of the proceeds to charity. Sites like eBay Giving Works (generally moderate) and Bidding for Good (generally higher-end) let you help out by buying at auction what you were going to buy anyway, at no extra cost, and experience the manic thrill of competing against e-strangers, dollar by dollar.
Donation of the Month
Maybe you've tried a pear-of-the-month or wine-of-the-month club. The same idea can apply to charities. First off, you'll probably end up giving more since you can spread the cost over time. Secondly, it helps the organization plan its budget better, since it can rely on your donation coming in regularly. Lastly, when you make those monthly payments, they usually go directly to the organization's bank, so the processing costs can be less than that of a one-time check—a tiny savings, but multiplied by a lot of people, it's not so tiny at all.

Dial Up Dollars
Are your last three cell phones stashed in a drawer along with the takeout menus and the pen from the home insurance company? Instead of waiting around for electronic recycling day, send them to Cell Phones for Soldiers and let the nonprofit turn them into prepaid calling cards for troops stationed overseas.
Parent and Child
Create a Giver
If you really want to make a difference long-term, teach your children about the importance of giving back. Help them pick an organization to which they can give a portion of their allowance or holiday money. Like most habits, the practice will stick with them as they grow up—and they'll likely teach it to their own kids one day. Think of it as paying it—way, way, way—forward in time.

Keep Reading: 6 ways giving improves your health