Before you give this holiday season, know some donating do's and don'ts

As the holiday season gets into full swing this week, many Americans are looking to give a little cheer to those less fortunate. Whether you plan to volunteer at a local soup kitchen, donate gifts to children or participate in a food drive, there are some good guidelines to keep in mind.

Reading_PA The holidays are a time for charitable giving, but non-profit organizations remind us that there is need all throughout the year. File photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

As the holiday season gets into full swing this week, many Americans are looking to give a little cheer to those less fortunate. Whether you plan to volunteer at a local soup kitchen, donate gifts to children or participate in a food drive, there are some good guidelines to keep in mind. Charities themselves are offering advice to people looking to donate their time, money or possessions this year.

Vanessa Small of The Washington Post spoke with a number of charities and developed a list of seven things not to do when giving to charity. First, instead of donating your dirty, outdated clothes, try giving something that you would still wear. Eric Salmi of Catholic Charities told Small that "the quality of stuff is really important because we're passing things off to people who want to feel dignified."

Charities also ask that people plan ahead when looking to donate their possessions or time. Volunteers can benefit from registering in advance since many opportunities for service fill up before the holiday season begins. Calling ahead can also help ensure that your gift is relevant to the charity's mission.

It is important to remain flexible, whether that involves volunteering for a different charity or dropping off your donated items yourself. "Donors may find themselves expecting their perfect idea of charity," wrote Small, "but need to be open to doing it a different way or time."

Charities also note that it is important to donate healthy and standard food during the holidays -- instead of the holiday cranberries -- to satisfy a wider spectrum of people. Directly donating money to a charity is also encouraged. Small pointed out that "many groups rely on year-end gifts and other financial help to operate."

Finally, charities encourage people to donate throughout the year and not just during the holiday season. Michael Curtain of DC Central Kitchen told Small, "We are incredibly blessed to have an abundance of volunteers, but people are hungry and need jobs all year long."

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