How to do good at Christmas

Volunteer or donate to help those less fortunate

How to do good at Christmas

Christmas is a time for exchanging gifts, sharing food and spending time with family. But there are many who are less fortunate and less able to celebrate, from those sleeping rough to elderly people living alone. If you want to do some good this year, by donating your time or money, we've a long list of ways you can help out those in need.

In this guide

Give charity gifts

Too many people do tit-for-tat giving at Christmas. The usual result? Unwanted tat. Instead, give a gift to charity in someone's name – then you know your money is actually paying for something useful. 

From helping to save lives with vital vaccines to buying livestock for villagers, this is our rundown of charity gifts, including how much of the donation goes to good causes. All the organisations below offer a customisable card or gift card that'll tell the recipient what you've paid for on their behalf.

If you've spotted something else we should include, let us know in the Charity Gifts forum thread.

Will my money definitely fund the gift I choose?

Charities have taken to selling specific charity gifts as a way of making donations more tangible. Yet whether you'll actually give the item you've chosen depends on the charity – some will simply allocate the money to a related area, or spend it wherever it's most needed. We've explained below what each charity's policy is.

Alternatively, you can just make a regular donation. If you want to give a direct donation to charity on somebody else's behalf, be sure to use Gift Aid – see below for the full lowdown.

  • UK taxpayers making online donations always have the option to include Gift Aid. This allows charities to claw back your tax from HM Revenue & Customs on one-off and regular donations, meaning your donation's increased by 25% or more.

    All the charity needs is your name, address and a declaration that you're a UK taxpayer. As this can be verbal, it can also be done over the phone.

    Your donations will qualify for Gift Aid as long as they're not more than four times what you've paid in tax (income or capital gains) that tax year – if you go over this limit, tell the charities you're supporting.

    How much extra the charity gets from Gift Aid

    Charities reclaim the tax at the basic 20% rate, which due to the way the numbers work means they get 25% more than you donate (so if you give £10, the charity gets £12.50).

    Higher or additional-rate taxpayers need to make a claim to gift the full tax relief

    Any higher-rate (40%) or additional-rate (45%) taxpayer who ticks the Gift Aid box will only see the charity get 25% more – as per the example above. 

    But they can reclaim the difference between the basic and higher rates (ie, 20% or 25%) on top of this – and if they choose to, they can then donate it.

    For higher-rate taxpayers, on £10 that's another £2.50 (so £5 in total), and for additional-rate taxpayers, it's a further £3.12 (so a total of £15.62 from a donation of £10 – 56.2% on top of your original donation).

    Higher and additional-rate taxpayers can claim the extra tax relief when filling in their self-assessment tax form, or if they don't do self-assessment, HMRC can change their tax code – contact HMRC and ask for a P810 form.

Unicef – eg, polio vaccines for 100 kids, £14

Save and change lives in communities around the world

Types of gifts: Polio vaccines for 100 children for £14, deliver a baby for £30 (provides midwifery equipment for a safe birth) or help provide winter clothing for a Syrian child for £42.

What does the charity get? Your donation provides the gift selected and covers the gift card costs, order processing etc. Occasionally, a substitute could be made based on need, such as measles vaccines instead of polio.

Link: Unicef Inspired Gifts

Macmillan – make a donation in someone's name, from £10

Helps provide care for patients with cancer

Types of gifts: Rather than choose a specific gift, here you can send someone a Christmas card and make a donation in their name. Donations start from £10.

What does the charity get? £2.55 goes towards the cost of the card and the rest of your donation goes where it is needed most.

Link: Macmillan Gifts That Change Lives

Save the Children – eg, five mosquito nets, £21

Gifts that can save lives in the developing world

Types of gifts: Buy a schoolbag kit for £12, five mosquito nets for £21 or an essential baby kit, which includes a washbowl, nappies, towels, a wrap, soap and warm baby cap for £33.

What does the charity get? When you buy a gift, your money goes towards projects within that theme, eg, education. For every £1 it gets, Save the Children spends 91p on its work to benefit children, 9p on fundraising and other costs.

Link: Save the Children

50% off selected Oxfam gifts – eg, buy a goat for a family, £12.50 (normally £25)

Support village projects

Types of gifts: Until Wednesday 18 December, you can get 50% off a number of Oxfam's Unwrapped gifts.

So you can buy a pile of poo for £6 (fertiliser for crops – normally £12), support women entrepreneurs for £10 (normally £20), or give a goat to supply a family with milk for £12.50 (normally £25). As with other livestock gifts, the goat gift also provides business training for the goat's new owners.

What does the charity get? Your donation will be spent on a related Oxfam project, for example, cash from water-themed gifts goes to one of its water and sanitation projects. For every £1 donated, 84p goes on projects, 9p on running costs and 7p on fundraising.

You can also spend Nectar points on a range of Oxfam Unwrapped Gifts.

Link: Oxfam Unwrapped

WaterAid – eg, 'Bog Builder', £54

Tackle the world's water crisis

Types of gifts: A mason to construct a family loo for £54, a bag of cement for a toilet base for £10 or a water hand-pump for £37.

What does the charity get? For every £1 donated, WaterAid spends 74p on delivering services to those in need and 26p on fundraising. Your money goes towards its full range of projects, and isn't limited to the specific gift you choose.

Link: Charity gifts

Refuge – eg, Christmas meal parcel, £25

Support women and children escaping domestic violence

Types of gifts: Refuge has two types of Christmas gift – a 'gift list' where donations are used to buy presents for women and children using its services this Christmas (such as a teddy bear for £10).

Alternatively you can buy refuge parcels, eg, an emergency parcel for £10, a Christmas meal parcel (for a woman and her children) for £25, or a support parcel for £75, which helps the Refuge team assist women in rebuilding their lives, such as applying for loans or grants, or finding employment. When you donate, you'll receive a thank you letter.

What does the charity get? Refuge is aiming to raise £30,000 this Christmas to provide support for all those using its services. Until that target is reached, every penny of your gift list donation goes directly to your chosen cause. Any funds left over will go towards the charity's running costs. For the refuge parcels, 79p out of every £1 donated goes directly to the charitable activity.

Link: Refuge parcels & gift list

WWF – eg, adopt an elephant, £3/month

Help protect endangered species

Types of gifts: Adopt one of a range of animals, including elephants from £3/month, and receive regular updates on your chosen species, plus a cuddly toy.

What does the charity get? When you adopt an animal, the money goes towards conservation work for an individual animal or a small group (you won't be the only person who adopts that animal). For every £1 donated, 72p is used directly for conservation work and campaigns, 19p for fundraising and 9p on administration costs.

Link: WWF Adopt An Animal

Centrepoint – eg, Christmas dinner, £10

Help support the homeless

Types of gifts: Buy a homeless young person a Christmas dinner for £10, a Christmas gift for £13, a set of toiletries for £15, or a safe, comfy bed for the night for £35.

What does the charity get? 76p of every £1 raised is used to continue Centrepoint's work to support homeless young people, 23p is used for fundraising and 1p for running the charity. The gifts are real examples of the way your money could be spent, but donations are distributed across Centrepoint's work and used where needed.

Link: Centrepoint More Than A Gift

Christian Aid – eg, send a child to school, £15

Transform the lives of those living in poverty

Types of gifts: Send a child to school for £15, a safe place to sleep for £20, or a nanny goat to provide milk for £22.

What does the charity get? For every £1 donated, 86p is spent on direct charitable work, 13p on fundraising and 1p on running the charity. Cash from gifts goes to projects within the relevant sector, eg, agriculture and livestock.

Link: Christian Aid Charity Gifts

Good Gifts – eg, beehive for a family, £28

Help those in the developing world

Types of gifts: Fund a tailoring business in the developing world for £9, an hour's respite for parents of disabled kids for £15, a hive of bees for £28 or provide deworming tablets for 1,000 children for £50.

What does the charity get? Good Gifts guarantees that all of your money will go to exactly what you've bought. Instead of charging a handling fee as it used to, it now uses Gift Aid donations to keep the site running.

Link: Good Gifts

Impact Foundation – eg, restoring someone's sight, £40

Improving health and preventing disability

Types of gifts: A home garden to feed a family for £25 or restoring a person's sight for £40.

What does the charity get? For every £1 donated, 90p goes directly to the chosen project, 6p goes towards generating more income and 4p is spent on support costs.

Link: Impact gift tokens

CAFOD gifts – eg, reading lessons, £10

Teach vital life skills and support new mothers

Types of gifts: Catholic aid agency CAFOD's gifts include an emergency shelter for a refugee family for £40, reading lessons for £10, a healthy mum and baby medical package for £30 or a happy queen bee for £4 (brings more bees to a hive, giving more honey).

What does the charity get? For every £1 donated, 78p is spent on international emergency and development work, 12p on fundraising and 10p on running the charity. Donations go towards funding projects in that gift's category (eg, education and skills training, or water and food) rather than to a specific gift.

Link: CAFOD World Gifts

Help out at a homeless centre

Many charities look for volunteers year-round, and while a few are full this Christmas, some places are still available for the coming weeks.

Homelessness charity Crisis is looking for volunteers to help run its Christmas centres in Birmingham, Coventry, Edinburgh, London, Oxford, Newcastle and south Wales. The centres provide meals, entertainment and advice for homeless people over Christmas.

Crisis needs thousands of volunteers and although it started recruiting in October, your local one may still have places to fill. You don't need any qualifications or experience to be a general volunteer, but the charity is also looking for people with specific skills, eg, chefs, hair and beauty therapists, tutors and counsellors.

You can choose which shifts you'd like to do when you apply, but Crisis advises applying as early as possible to ensure you get the shifts you want. It says generally it asks volunteers to commit to a minimum of two shifts, but for some specific roles this may vary.

Don't live in one of these areas?

To find opportunities near you, search online for Christmas volunteering opportunities at homeless shelters or soup kitchens in your area. For example, when we checked, you could still sign up to volunteer with Caring at Christmas in Bristol.

Check if you can make a free donation of 25 school meals to Mali and get a free Amazon £5

Do you have an Amazon account? If you're one of the selected customers eligible for a special promo, Mastercard will donate 25 school meals to children in Mali on your behalf. Plus, you'll get a free £5 Amazon credit for yourself. To trigger the donation and freebie, you just need to switch your default Amazon payment method to a Mastercard credit card.

While not everyone's eligible, it only takes a few seconds to check. (Amazon told us all customers who don't have a Mastercard on file are eligible, though we suspect it might be fewer than this.) Here's how to do it:

  • Step 1. First sign into your Amazon account and look for a black banner on the homepage that says 'Save £5 at Amazon'.

    Amazon says if you don't see the banner, you're not eligible, but you may as well try clicking this promo link just in case. Those who are eligible should see an orange link on the promo page that says 'Change your 1-Click setting'.

  • Step 2. If you're eligible, click the orange link on the promo page to change your default payment method to a Mastercard credit (not debit) card by 11.59pm on Tuesday 31 December. Mastercard will then immediately donate the 25 school meals on your behalf.

    Amazon says you'll instantly get an email confirming your £5 credit. The terms on the promo page suggest you need to make a purchase to get the free £5, however when we asked Amazon, it said no purchase was needed.

  • Step 3. You'll need to use the free £5 by 11.59pm on 31 March 2020 – click the 'Use your £5 promotional balance' box at the payment stage. The credit has no minimum spend, however you must keep the Mastercard as your default payment method to use the credit. There are a few exclusions such as Kindle books and gift vouchers – see full terms.

The promo runs until Tuesday 31 December or until Mastercard has donated a maximum of £112,500 to the World Food Programme (25 meals costs £5). Amazon hasn't told us how close it is to the limit.

Look out for elderly neighbours

Age UK, a charity focused on helping those in later life, has a number of suggestions for 'small acts of kindness' to help out older neighbours who might be feeling isolated, or need a hand with quick tasks. Here are a few examples – they're relevant to the Christmas period, but there's nothing stopping you keeping it up throughout the year:

  • Visit an older friend, relative or neighbour regularly. Research from Age UK shows that making the effort to keep in touch can make a big difference to older people, who may be stoical and reluctant to admit when they are struggling to cope.  

  • Start a conversation. It might seem obvious but simply being friendly and prepared to stop for a chat can give a vital boost to someone who may not have another conversation that day.

  • Accompany your neighbour to an event. Christmas provides many opportunities for communities to get together, whether it's an event at a church, a Christmas market or a party. Strike up a conversation with someone in your street and see if they'd like to go.

  • Offer assistance on extreme weather days. As winter takes hold, the risk of extreme weather increases, making life hard for older people who might struggle to leave their homes as a result. Introduce yourself to a potentially vulnerable neighbour, and see if they need help with shopping or de-icing their drive, for example.

Give to a foodbank

December is the busiest month for foodbanks, with almost 50% more referrals from Citizens Advice and other organisations. Some foodbanks have already sorted collections for Christmas but there's a huge demand for donations in the New Year too – here's how you can help:

1. Check where you can donate

The Trussell Trust is one of the largest foodbank organisations in the UK – see a map of its locations.

You can also check your council's website for info about other foodbanks, while charities will often put alerts on social media if they're accepting donations.

Places of worship often run foodbanks or welcome donations, no matter what faith you are. And many schools and supermarkets run 'food drives', so check these too – they'll explain the type of produce they'll accept.

2. Use supermarket coupons to make cheap donations

If you want to give, but don't have much spare cash, check out our Supermarket Coupons page to see if you can get suitable items for free or at a discount. If you fancy, try your hand at a bit of extreme couponing, then give your haul away. There are often coupons available for food, as well as for essentials such as toothpaste.

Quick question

  • MSE Forumites have asked the same question. Staples such as tinned meat, fruit, veg or soup, or tea bags, pasta sauce, pasta and cereals are always popular. 

    See the forum's Foodbank thread for a list of suitable products and where you can find them on offer.

Donate blankets to animal shelters

Sadly lots of unwanted pets will be spending Christmas in rehoming centres. You can support them by donating blankets, treats and toys.

To find a centre near you, search online for 'animal shelters' or 'animal rescue centres' in your area. They'll usually list online what donations they most need, or you can call and ask before you visit.

Plus if you're good with a knitting needle, Battersea Dogs & Cats Home has instructions on making blankets and mouse toys for cats.

Feed the hungry for free

The Hunger Site is a 'click 'n' give' website where sponsors donate when you click – over 1.5 million cups of food were donated in November alone.

Click through and amid a pile of banners you'll see an orange button on the site's homepage. There's an emblazoned message: "Click to give – it's free!" Click on this link and its sponsors will donate some money to charity.

The logic behind this site is brilliant. It's a win-win-win situation for the hungry, the internet user and the sponsors. For companies it's a cost-effective, feel-good public relations exercise, especially powerful when helping to promote ethical brands.

Where does the food go?

The Hunger Site is a US site, and while two-thirds of donations go to alleviating hunger in the developing world, one third helps those within the US. Yet clicks from anywhere in the world count.

The food is distributed by non-profit partners such as Mercy Corps, a large US charity which provides aid in more than 40 countries. Last year, visitor clicks paid for over 19.5 million cups of food to be distributed.

Give blood

Giving blood can be an invaluable gift for someone you don't even know. Donations are needed year-round, but this can be a great way to do good at Christmas without having to spend any money.

For full info on who can give blood and where you need to go, click the relevant link: England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Offer what you have to charity shops

From bras to Blu-rays, donating to charity shops is a fab way to declutter – and help good causes at the same time. So why not do a personal stocktake and donate anything you haven't used since last Christmas?

What charity shops will accept varies, though the examples below are typical. It's worth calling ahead to check if you're taking bulky items.

  • Oxfam. It's looking for clean books, toys, clothing (even bras), shoes, accessories and homeware. On the tech side, we're talking DVDs, games, CDs and mobile phones. It will even accept furniture (though give the shop a call before lugging a sofa over).

    Oxfam can't accept computers, medical equipment or anything broken/dirty. Electrical goods that run off the mains are also a no-no (though it says a few shops do accept these, so please check before donating). See a full list of what it can and can't take.
  • British Heart Foundation. If you've electrical items to donate, the British Heart Foundation would be happy to take them off your hands. It also takes furniture with fire labels and will often collect goods from you. This is on top of the usual books, toys, clothes etc. See a full list, including collection details.
  • Cancer Research. It will also accept electrical items, though not white goods (it still advises to call ahead and check). Other donations welcomed include clothing, bed linen, homeware, books and mobile phones. See a full list.