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The Giving Season

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'Tis the season to be generous. In the US, this period around Christmas is called "the giving season". And for good reason: The Just Giving website saw its most popular month so far for donations to charities as December 2010, which accounted for nearly 13% of donations all year and was 51% higher than the average month. The 80,000 people who donate to charities through the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) tend to give in January, when the number of donations were 45 per cent higher than the average month, and the donation size was 18% higher.

This seems to prove we're not all Scrooges. The most recent research into donations, out this month, shows an extra one million of us are giving to charity in the UK since last year, although we are tending to give less per month, a median of £11 instead of £12 last year.

The recession has cut charity donations since 2008 in real terms - after adjustment for inflation - to the tune of about £900 million. Philanthropy in the UK has plummeted by almost a third between 2009 and 2010. There is clearly still some way to go until we fully extend American-style generosity towards good causes.

However, Christmas is just around the corner, and regardless of any double-dip recession we are bound to dip into our pockets once again. Christmas is traditionally the time of year that charities - large and small - have substantial appeals. The Oxfam goat, which launched around 10 years ago, is emblematic of these end of year pushes.

Middle-class Victorians used to spend 10 per cent of their income on charity according to Ian Hislop's recent BBC2 documentary on banking. I'm sure Dickens would approve if we followed their example and dug deep this Christmas. There are some innovative new ways of giving that can make it more fun or interesting and they seem to have to do with either digital giving, networks of donors, or a cross-section of both of these. "Times have moved on from 10 years ago when everyone used direct mail," the Head of Policy Research at National Council of Voluntary Organisations, Karl Wilding, told me.

You can give online, at holes-in-the-wall, via text, or even by surfing the net. Many of us have our hands glued to our smartphones these days - and we're hooked. Some cool charity apps are: iHobo encourages you to step into the shoes of a young homeless person and donate; the Orange Do Some Good app allows you to fit in micro-volunteering if you have five minutes to spare; the Let Give app donates a small amount to your favourite cause everytime you press snooze on your phone alarm - hopefully it will be available for donations to UK charities soon.

Another zeitgeist is "friendraising" - support friends and families' fundraising efforts. A good example is Movember to raise money for prostate cancer research. If you didn't join in the ubiquitous growing of a 'tash and sharing it on Facebook this year you were probably a woman.

"Friendraising" could also mean you donate to charities you have not considered before, which is a good thing. Just Giving state that nine in ten of their donations go to only 140 charities out of the thousands on the site, so they have launched have launched their 'SpreadTheGiving' campaign to encourage people to spread the monetary love at Christmastime.

You can also get involved with smaller, less well-known projects and causes through different kinds of online crowdfunding. It doesn't take much to make a difference: For instance, a mock trial to test the proposed law of 'Ecocide' in the Supreme Court was recently made possible through donations on the Crowdfunder website. They raised £14,000 (£4,000 over target), many of which were donations of £10 or £20.

For those looking to give away more substantial amounts, perhaps precipitated by coming into an inheritance or earning more money than you know what to do with, you can join an online philanthropic network such as The Network for Social Change. There are different levels of donation, and members can club together for advice on how to spend their cash.

Similar to this, but operating in what digital natives call 'meatspace' , The Funding Network, which describes itself as the 'friendly Dragon's Den for donors', is an open giving circle. The Wall Street Times reported in a 2010 article: "The network has so far raised £3 million for social and environmental causes, and recently British actor Daniel Craig and U.K. television news presenter Jon Snow took to the stage to represent their chosen charities." At each meeting, five people pitch for their organisation, and then they leave the room and well-heeled donors can pledge their money in an auction-style atmosphere. The target is £5,000 for each cause but this is often exceeded.

Happy giving, everyone!