Whether you’re planning the office Christmas party, shopping for that perfect gift or preparing a long holiday vacation, the season brings opportunities to join colleagues, friends and loved ones for a little merry-making. Why not extend your festivities to include volunteerism?

Many companies offer employee volunteer programs and volunteer opportunities in the office. Throughout the year, corporations donate time, money, tangible goods and other resources to help organizations provide much needed help to the underrepresented. What about the holidays? Most nonprofits center marketing campaigns around the holidays, when people are more generous and likely to lend a hand.

Thanksgiving and the weeks following Black Friday are perfect times for the office to pitch in and lend a hand. Here are five simple ways to stimulate  employee volunteer programs during the holidays and give your employees easy ways to volunteer in your community.

1. Give #GivingTuesday a try.

#GivingTuesday sponsors a day of giving every year. The “holiday” falls on the first Tuesday following Black Friday. While many Americans tend to splurge on Black Friday and neglect the donation jars found in many stores, #GivingTuesday offers the chance to redirect spending to a more charitable cause.

The organization provides several out-of-the-box ideas for planning a company-wide giving day. One idea provided by #GivingTuesday is to choose one non-profit and collect donations at your office and/or store. Companies can offer to match each contribution, up to a specific dollar amount. Providing a scale, thermometer-style measurement or ruler to track the donations, helps customers and team members feel pride in their accomplishments. Consider providing name cards for those who donate, including the amount. Hang those cards in a public area so all can see the impact your campaign has on others.

Small businesses shouldn’t worry about the engagement or time required to plan #GivingTuesday. The organization provides resources to help plan, promote and continue giving throughout the year. From social media posts to street signs and press releases, #GivingTuesday has planned every angle for the holiday season and hopes to stimulate giving and Holiday volunteer opportunities.

2. Bring Santa to life.

Children are the primary focus during the holidays. However, many parents are unable to provide basic needs, let alone toys and special treats. Why not surprise a young boy or girl this season with a stocking full of toys from Santa? Sponsor a toy or clothing drive during your office party. If you run a retail or hospitality service, set up containers and ask customers to drop off items for donation. Include information for monetary donations as well.

One good program-in-a-box is Toys for Tots. This organization provides all the marketing and resources needed for a satisfactory drive. Toys for Tots, founded by the U.S. Marine Corps, dedicates its time to helping poverty-stricken families by providing Christmas gifts for children. Contact Toys for Tots to learn about toy drives and ways to volunteer in your community.

3. Help feed the homeless.

Nearly a quarter of Americans face hunger and have difficulty providing food for their families daily, let alone providing turkey with all the trimmings at Thanksgiving. One way to help during the season is by serving food at the local homeless shelter or soup kitchen. Regional food banks frequently seek volunteers to help cook and serve holiday dinners.

The Salvation Army seeks holiday volunteers and donations for its annual holiday meal. This organization provides clothing, food, toys and other much needed holiday aid to families in America. One of the Salvation Army’s more under promoted services is nursing home and senior care help during the season. Volunteers bring food to the more than one million hungry seniors in America.

Contact the Salvation Army for more information about ways to volunteer in your community.

4. Give a home for the holidays.

Not everyone will sing “I’ll be home for Christmas” this year. Homelessness is a persistent issue in America. But your employee volunteer program can help those without a home this holiday. Plan a paid volunteer day, and send your team to one of Habitat for Humanity’s thousand locations. This is an opportunity to learn about the organization’s mission and learn some valuable repair skills.

For those who aren’t handy with a hammer, Habitat has the perfect volunteer solution. The organization sponsors ReStores in many large cities. These stores sell renovated housing items, furniture, tools, etc. at a discounted price. The proceeds go towards renovating or building new homes.

5. Think about individual commitments.

Some companies just can’t spare the time or people to dedicate an entire day volunteering, or don't have employee volunteer programs set up. It’s understandable; companies, particularly small businesses, must manage their resources and sometimes cannot afford to volunteer. Another problem is coordinating a time slot that fits everyone’s work and personal schedules. Team members may find it difficult to schedule time outside normal business hours. Don’t worry; there’s still a solution to engage your team and find ways to volunteer in your community.

Consider hosting a volunteer competition. Offer to provide prizes or awards for the person who volunteers the most hours or provides the largest donation. Ask team members if they are willing to donate a few sick days to the pile. Offer it as an incentive to take time off to help. If your supervisor doesn’t approve of the sick days, advocate for a few hours each weekend or after hours. Allow team members for choose the nonprofit they want to support and their own volunteer schedule.

Another viable solution is volunteer matching. VolunteerMatch offers a free service that connects charitable organizations to professionals and subject matter experts. Ask your office team members to sign up for a free account and offer their professional advice or services to organizations in need. Not only does this help reduce the cost of expensive professional services, volunteers can list the job or consulting opportunity in their resume.

Plan your volunteerism early.

Finding volunteering opportunities during the holidays is more difficult than most people imagine. The demand for volunteer gigs increase during the holidays. Everyone is feeling the generosity bug and wants to help. It’s just something about the season that brings out the best in us. Start looking for opportunities as early as possible. Start in August if possible.

Keep in mind, volunteering isn’t a one-time, show up and leave task. Nonprofits have to coordinate training and spend valuable resources to offer these opportunities. It’s just not worth the time or effort for one company to send a team for a few hours. Plan your volunteering activity around the needs of the organization. Call ahead and ask about training, time commitment, etc. Nonprofits often suspend volunteer training and recruitment during the week of Christmas up to the week after News Years. Offer to send your team a few weeks before the event for training and orientation.

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