This Valentine’s Day, forget the wining and dining. Do something that matters.
Like many people, I’ve had good Valentine’s Days and well, not so good.
The not-so-good dates back to middle school, when I, like many of my classmates, anxiously awaited one of those pink-dyed carnations from what I hoped would be a secret admirer. Much to my dismay, the carnation never came, and for years, it left me feeling downright uneasy about the 14th of February.
I later came to realize that Valentine’s Day is about much more than getting flowers or conversation hearts that say “Hot Stuff” or “Be Mine.” I love it that there’s a day in our busy lives when we officially celebrate love. I’m not just talking romantic love, like Hallmark would have us believe, but the real-deal, universal stuff-of-life that makes up who we really are. Behind all our roles and personalities and professionalism, each of us, at essence, is a living, loving being. Sure, on the other 364 days of the year we might try to fake it, but on this one day, the world agrees: Love is where it’s at. Call it spirit, call it sweetness — whatever you want to call it, we’ve all got it. It’s just a matter of what we do with it.
There are plenty of ways to do good and feel good this Valentine’s Day. Here are a few of my favorites.
1. Will You Be My…Volunteer? There’s no shortage of ways you can help. Volunteer at a local soup kitchen, animal shelter, or favorite nonprofit, or offer to tutor a child in reading or math. You can find loads of opportunities on VolunteerMatch, or check out DoSomething, which helps younger folks rock the causes they care about.
2. Put the “Fun” in Fundraising. If you’re taking that special someone out for a pricey dinner, why not have your bill go to a good cause? Check your newspaper or online city pages for Valentine-themed fundraisers that support local nonprofits. Or better yet, throw your own happy hour or party, and donate the proceeds to charity.
3. Give a Little Bit. Sometimes a little helps a lot. Looking to put your money where your mouth is? Donate a dollar a day to a cause that calls to you through Philanthroper. Or support students and classrooms in need in your hometown through DonorsChoose.
4. Send Love Letters. Not just to your sweetheart, but to people and organizations that are doing good things for the world. Tell them why you respect and appreciate their work, and that they really do make a difference. If you’re feeling extra romantic, include a donation.
5. Reach Out to Those in Need. Deliver homemade Valentine’s cards or heart-shaped cookies to the sick, the elderly, the homeless — and their caregivers. Call a local children’s hospital, nursing home, domestic violence or homeless shelter and ask how you can donate an hour or two of your time.
6. Give Gifts That Give. There are dozens of charitable shopping sites and online nonprofit stores selling gifts for a good cause. Look for red Motorola phones, Gap T-shirts and iPods from Apple to support the (Red) Campaign, or find cause-specific gifts to alleviate hunger, breast cancer, deforestation and more at Greater Good. Can’t find the perfect gift for your special someone? Give a Good Card through Network for Good.
7. Remember Those Who Serve You. Think of all those people who make your life easier and more convenient — every single day. Give a thank-you card to the bus driver or the barista who serves you your latte. Personally thank the janitor who keeps your office or campus clean, or the people who pick up your trash. Leave your waiter an extra tip, and smile–big–at the gas station attendant.
8. Clean Your Closets. Get a head start on spring-cleaning and donate clothes, toys, furniture, household items, and old computers to nonprofits accepting them. Check your local Big Brothers Big Sisters, Salvation Army, or Goodwill Industries.
9. Love Your Mother (Earth). Take the trash challenge: For one day, see if you can generate zero trash. Zip, nada, nothing. No cardboard boxes, no disposable containers, no bottled water. Think of what you can reduce and re-use, and call your county or city waste management to find out about local compost programs.
10. Get Your Heart Pumping. Charity walks and runs raise money for a good cause and get you moving in the great outdoors. Bring the family or your co-workers along to make it a team event. To find an event, check your local American Heart Association or a local runners’ club, such as Road Runners Club.
11. Adopt a Pet for a Day. Offer to take care of a pet for an ill or homebound neighbor. Volunteer at your local animal shelter to take the dogs for a walk. Or adopt an endangered species through the World Wildlife Fund, and you’ll get a lovable stuffed pet and adoption certificate.
12. Be a Fair-Trade Valentine. Buy certified fair-trade chocolate from companies that ensure that small-scale farmers receive higher and more stable prices for their cocoa. Try Theo, Equal Exchange, or my new favorite: Alter-Ego Fair Trade (love their Dark Quinoa Chocolate – talk about a superfood!).
13. Say it With Organic Flowers. Buy fresh organic blooms from your local farmer’s market, or send a bunch from Organic Bouquet, which donates 10 percent to charities like CARE, the Global Fund for Women, and the American Red Cross.
14. Be Kind While You Dine. Taking your sweetie for a steak dinner this V-Day? Choose a restaurant that sources its meat from sustainable, humanely treated and harvested animals & farms. Visit Sustainable Table’s Eat Well Guide to find vendors that offer farms and stores that sell sustainably raised meat. For seafood lovers, download the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch app for your smart phone.
15. Continue to Support Disaster Relief. We don’t hear much about Haiti or the Gulf Coast on the news these days, but these disasters are in need of much support. Here are a few ideas: Adopt a Brown Pelican through the International Bird Rescue Research Center, which picks up oiled birds, cleans and rehabilitates them. Or provide direct support to those facing financial devastation due to the Gulf Coast spill by donating at Protect Your Coastline. For Haiti and other world disasters, consider supporting an organization like Doctors Without Borders, which sends medical and non-medical aid workers to countries whose survival is threatened by violence, neglect, or catastrophe.
16. Say “I Do” to Charitable Weddings. Tying the knot this year? Consider creating a charitable gift registry through the I Do Foundation and its many retail and nonprofit partners.
17. Celebrate with Small Acts of Kindness. Valentine’s Day isn’t the only holiday this week: February 14-20th is Random Acts of Kindness Week. What can you do? Pay for a coffee, lunch, or a toll for the person behind you in line. Tape the exact change for a soda to a vending machine. Send cards with joyful messages to strangers. Collect canned goods for a food bank. Shovel a neighbor’s driveway, or babysit a friend’s child, for free. Visit Acts of Kindness for hundreds of other ideas.
Reprinted with permission from Philanthropy Writing: The Heart of Giving.