Q: My family usually makes a big donation to our favorite charity at the end of the year. But times are tough and we just don’t have the money. What’s the best way to show my support without sending the big check they are expecting?

A: Nonprofit organizations know how to do more with less, and most are adjusting their budgets to prepare for fewer donations this season. Unfortunately, the need for assistance has grown exponentially during these tough economic times. That means more families visiting food banks, more abandoned pets and more crowding in homeless shelters.

Fortunately, there are plenty of ways for you and your family to help your favorite charity. Hopefully you can find one or two options to try this year.

Donate office supplies: Whether it’s a food bank or a pet rescue, charities need the same things that most offices require to function. I volunteer for an organization called Ahimsa House, which helps people and pets escape domestic violence together. The organization regularly updates its online wish list, which includes things like stamps, storage shelves and file folders. Donating these items helps ensure that more money goes to the cause. Call your favorite charity or check the website for a list of items they need.

Shop with purpose: If you frequently purchase items online, try shopping through donation sites like iGive.com. About 800 retailers, ranging from Amazon.com to Overstock.com, are listed on the site. To get started, set up an iGive account and designate your favorite charity. When you are ready to shop for a new sweater, find your store — and your sweater — through retailers on iGive. A portion of your purchase goes to the charity. For pet lovers, online retailers like EntirelyPets.com will contribute a portion of each sale to a designated nonprofit. Make sure your favorite group reaps the benefits. The biggest challenge is remembering to shop through these sites, so it helps to create a few bookmarks.

Find new ways to raise money: Most organizations are so busy getting the job done that they don’t have time to seek out new fund-raising options. If you have a gift for writing, or simply surfing the Web, put your skills to use on behalf of your favorite charity. This is a great activity for Net-happy teens. If your nonprofit is not listed on iGive, call and offer to start the process. Search for grants and offer to help complete the application. (Trust me, grant-writing skills are more valuable than gold!)

Work the Net: Thanks to Facebook, your friends will never forget your birthday again. If your big day is coming up soon, use that to your advantage. Several apps allow you to request donations to your favorite charity as a birthday gift. You may be surprised how much money you can raise by making a simple appeal.

Spread the good news: Many nonprofits go into high gear with fund-raising activities during this time of the year. Maybe you don’t need yet another pet photo with Santa. You can still help the cause by promoting events on your Facebook page or at the end of e-mails to family and friends. Rally the family and offer to distribute fliers in your neighborhood announcing an upcoming event.

Got elbow grease? Whether it’s unloading items for a festival, stuffing envelopes or even fostering a pet for your favorite rescue group, elbow grease can be more valuable than cash donations. In a story about reducing your pet’s carbon paw print, Taylor Brand, founder of Rescue Me! Animal Project, noted, “We could save so many more animals if we just had enough foster homes.” Some organizations even provide kibble and pet meds — all they need from you is the structure and the love. There is typically a big need for foster homes during the holidays, when full-time volunteers make plans to visit their families.

I hope this list shows that you have plenty of great options to help your favorite charity this holiday season. Remember, giving benefits everyone.

All the best.

— Morieka Johnson

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