NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -
Tornadoes, tsunamis, hurricanes.
It's been an unbelievable year that has hurt so many. Instead of giving conventional gifts this holiday season (does Dad really need another tie?) why not make a donation in his name to a worthy cause?
1. Feed a family
For $30 you can provide two bags of groceries to an American family struggling to make ends meet. To find more options for your donation, check the online gift giving catalog by Alternative Gifts International at www.altgifts.org.
There is a range of options, from providing support for young girls in Southeast Asia to buying a bicycle for a healthcare worker in Korea. If you make a donation in someone else's name they'll get a greeting card with the announcement of the gift.
2. Donate an animal
If you'd like to donate an animal to a family in need, check out the charity World Vision. You can give the gift of an alpaca to a family in Peru or Ecuador for $175. Other gift options include a goat, chickens or sheep for between $25 and $100.
Another non-profit that donates animals to needy countries is Heifer International. You can purchase a package of honeybees, including the box and the hive. for families in the Dominican Republic. Other options include a basket of rabbits and chickens, a flock of geese, or a cow.
3. Make it personal
If you don't think Aunt May will fully appreciate the anti-gorilla poaching patrol, you can always give her a gift certificate so she can choose what charity to donate to. Go to www.justgive.org where you can purchase a gift certificate for any amount.
There is a $5 dollar service fee, but the recipient will be able to choose from over a million charities from Just Give's database. If you do buy a gift certificate, you'll be the one who gets the tax deduction.
If you have a cause, but not a specific charity in mind, think about getting a charity gift basket. Choose from a list of causes like "Save the Earth" or "Provide Shelter for Animals."
Your contribution will be divided among four charities that specialize in that area. Of course you always have the option of adding or removing charities and you can change the dollar amount they receive too. Check out www.justgive.org for a list of available baskets.
4. Get the Kids involved
One of the best lessons you can teach your children is the gift of giving. Have them round up those toys that have fallen by the wayside that other little boys and girls will be able to use.
Then find the closest toy drive by going to www.secretsanta.org and to find a list of sites where you can drop off those gifts.
5. Verify the Charity
Once you have identified groups that do what you want, check them out.
Guidestar.org, Charitynavigator.org and www.give.org -- the Web site of the Council of Better Business Bureaus -- offer detailed reports on charitable organizations. The search procedure is fast, easy and free.
The non-profits in the Guidestar database are registered with the Internal Revenue Service, or meet IRS requirements for being a tax-exempt organization.
If a charity you are interested in is not part of the group's database, proceed with caution. Remember, at least 60 percent of your donation should go to the cause you want to sponsor according to the American Institute of Philanthropy.
Is regifting okay? Click here for more.
For all the latest Five Tips columns, click here.