The end of the year is the season of giving, but it is important to know where your money is going. In West Michigan, people have a lot of options when it comes to helping others through volunteering or giving a financial contribution. Much of the donations we see are small amounts contributed by people of modest means.

In Kent County alone, there are several thousand non-profit organizations. They address things like healthcare, education, religion, human services, arts and culture, and environmental causes. So how do you know where to give? A nonprofit's website may have statistics about the issue they focus on, their history, and annual reports showing the impact their work has. Guidestar.org collects data on thousands of non-profits, including their tax returns and other public information. You can find out about the financial health of the organization, their leadership, and how they use the donations they receive each year. But, for many non-profits that are local, it's better to get to know the people. Ask them questions about how your money will be spent and how the non-profit runs.

If you don't want to give money to a charity this year, there are other things you can give too. Volunteering around the holidays is important, and great way to give back to the West Michigan community. There are websites that can match up up with groups and organizations that need people with your skill sets. One of those is ServeGR.com.

A bonus of giving this holiday season: studies show making a donation to charity actually makes us feel good. The pleasure center of the brain responds to the actions. That's why many people often experience a "warm glow" when they choose to give things away, rather than spend on themselves. Other studies show that people who spend a portion of their income helping others are happier overall than those who only spend money on themselves.

Katie Joseph from Emmanuel Hospice joined us in studio to talk about it as a representative for Porter Hills.

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