Studies show that Americans give about three percent of their income to charity. Ever since the recession ended in mid-2009, charitable giving has escalated in the areas of education, human services, health, environment and animals according to an Annual Report on Philanthropy. Even if you missed GivingTuesday earlier this month, the movement that dedicated a full day to giving, you could do your bit this holiday season and cheer up the less fortunate. Here are some tips to get you started.

Pick Your Cause
Buying a charity-affiliated product doesn’t match up to contributing to a charitable organization directly, for two reasons—the amount passed on through the purchase is miniscule, and it is difficult to track. The organization you donate to should be financially healthy, accountable and transparent about their donations. It makes sense to follow your investment with a progress report. If your charity can’t tell you what kind of results they created from your investment, find one that will. Of course, you need to do your homework and pick a cause that you feel strongly about. A little research goes a long way in ensuring that your donation is making an impact.

Do It Conveniently
If you’re a busy person, chances are, you’ve put charity on the backburner. There are quick and easy ways to get around this. Click To Donate is a website that lists a number of non-profit organizations, especially local charities you might not have known about. If you shop on Amazon a lot, you could allot a portion of your purchases towards charity. Amazon Smile is a program that allows you to give in a small way without changing any of your habits. You could even donate your credit card rewards such as unused points or miles.

Make It Fun
Charity doesn’t have to be dreary. Try something different this year. Give more meaning to your workout through Charity Miles, a neat app that helps you earn for charity when you walk, bike or run. Enhance your vocabulary with Freerice, a non-profit website owned and supported by the United Nations World Food Program. It asks you to guess the meaning of a word and for every correct answer, it donates rice through the World Food Program to help end hunger. Buy an energy harnessing soccer ball that you can play with and which provides off-grid power that’s good for people and good for the earth. You could even do something for the 6-8 million dogs and cats that wind up in animal shelters by donating to Rock And Rawhide, which sends them toys, blankets and rawhide bones.

Reap The Benefits
Giving generously not only makes you feel good on the inside, it can help you financially too. Make your giving decisions by December 31 to qualify for a tax deduction in this calendar year. Donations charged to a credit card before the end of 2014 count for 2014, even if the credit card bill isn’t paid until 2015. Checks count for 2014 as long as they are mailed in 2014. Remember to keep a bank record or written communication from a charity including the charity’s name, along with the date and amount of your contribution, in order to deduct a cash contribution.

Whether you’re considering donating, or volunteering at your local homeless shelter, clinic, or school, follow these simple tips to help make the world a better place.

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Simona is a journalist who has worked with several leading publications in India over the last 17 years, writing on lifestyle topics and the arts, besides interviewing celebrities. She made the switch to public relations and headed the division as PR Manager at ITC Hotels’ flagship property, the ITC Grand Chola, but has since returned to her first love, journalism. Now she writes on food, which she is sincerely passionate about and wellness, which she finds fascinating and full of surprises. When she isn’t writing, she is busy playing the role of co-founder and communications director of The Bicycle Project, a six-year-old charity initiative that empowers tribal children in rural areas, while addressing the issue of urban waste.