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  Why I Love Charitable Giving at the Holidays

I love charitable giving at the holidays.

A lot of us really do not need more stuff. That’s why I love charitable giving at the holidays. There are so many ways to support the communities and causes your friends and family love. And it doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t have something for them to open! You can buy goods from companies and organizations that give back, or buy a membership to a museum, zoo or more. Here’s a few ways to give back this year.

Give a membership to a museum.

Not only does buying a membership to a museum help keep its doors open, it also provides the recipient with something fun to do. Most museum annual passes pay for themselves in two visits, so it’s pretty low pressure to make the gift worth its while. Whether it’s to a local science, children’s, history or art museum, the gift of an annual pass is still fun.

A few fantastic museums I’ve visited on Places to Love include:

Overtown Police Precinct and Courthouse Museum

charitable giving

During the early 1950s, Miami was working its way out of segregation when just five officers joined the first all-black force. At the time most of the nearly all-white Miami police force did the policing for 43,000 African American Miamians. Most black Miami residents lived in three neighborhoods, including Overtown. This museum is dedicated to preserving a piece of the city’s history that’s important to preserve and learn from.

The Edison Ford Winter Estates

thomas edison

Sitting along the Caloosahatchee River, the Thomas Edison estate features his beautiful 1885 Seminole Lodge (still furnished with furniture and inventions from Edison), and 20-acre botanical garden with 7500 plants from 450 different species and six continents. There’s also a lab and workshop, left just the way it was when Edison worked there. Henry Ford spent his summers next door at his craftsman bungalow estate, The Mangoes. The onsite museum dedicates 15,000 square feet to the legacy of Edison and Ford who both changed the world as we know it.

Museum of Musical Instruments – Phoenix, AZ

MIM has a collection of more than 8,000 instruments from more than 200 countries. The galleries there reflect the rich diversity and history of many world cultures and how music and musical instruments show us what we have in common. Their motto “Music is the language of the Soul” says it all!

Vermillionville – Lafayette, LA
Vermilionville’s mission is to increase appreciation for the history, culture, and natural resources of the Native Americans, Acadians, Creoles, and peoples of African descent in the Attakapas region of Louisiana through the end of the 1800s. Through historic interpretation and conservation along the Bayou Vermilion, they strive to educate guests on the interactions of these groups and the connections between past and contemporary folklife, empowering guests to apply these lessons from our shared histories.

Businesses the Give Back

So many companies are B Corps now, meaning a portion of sales go to a non-profit. You gotta love that!

The Community Cloth

community cloth - charitable giving
Every episode of Places to Love features a local shopping experience. In Houston, I was moved by what they’re doing at the Community Cloth. This organization empowers refugee women by giving artisans the materials and infrastructure to create and sell handmade, indigenous arts and crafts. Think woven scarves, knitwear, household items, children’s hats, bags and more.

Zoos, Aquariums, Rescues and More

Have an animal lover in your life? Set them up with a pass to a zoo or aquarium! Or you could make a donation in their name to an animal rescue or conservation project. Maybe donating to the place where they adopted their favorite furry friend fits the bill, or to a place that helps rehab wild animals.

A few animal-centric organizations I’ve visited on Places to Love include:

The Monterey Bay Aquarium

monterrey bay - charitable giving

The wellbeing of our oceans is critical to sustaining life on planet earth, but sometimes it’s hard to really wrap your head around what that means. That’s just one of many reasons I love the Monterey Bay Aquarium. A pioneer in the preservation and protection of marine life, this institution is all about inspiring ocean conservation.

The Pacific Marine Mammal Center

pacific marine mammal - charitable giving
As the first marine mammal rehabilitation facility in California, the nonprofit veterinary research hospital and educational center is dedicated to the rescue and rehabilitation of ill and injured marine mammals – primarily elephant seals, harbor seals, and California sea lions.

The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens

living desert zoo - charitable giving

While the Coachella Valley allows you to experience the Sonoran Desert, the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens is dedicated to the plants and animals of deserts all over the world.

The Naples Zoo
If you’re looking for some fun with a hefty dose of education, check out the Naples Zoo. Meander down the property’s paved path, winding nearly a mile past rare and beautiful animals. You’ll see lions, giraffes, monkeys, pythons, and bears, as well as a rare cat that’s native to Florida. It’s estimated that only about 200 Florida panthers are left in Florida, and as far as captivity goes, the Naples Zoo is the closest to their natural habitat. These cats are only brought here if they would not have survived in the world, and there is no breeding program at the zoo.

Kiwi Trust

new zealand - kiwi

In 1999, eight North Island brown kiwi were found unexpectedly in New Zealand’s Ōhope Scenic Reserve. These adult birds were the last of their local population.Without intervention, this kiwi population, unique to the Whakatāne area, would have be lost forever. The Whakatāne Kiwi Project is dedicated to the serious effort required to re-establish a thriving kiwi population. And that dedication has seen kiwi in the Whakatāne area go from the original eight birds to now over 300.

The Turtle Hospital

Turtle Hospital - Key West - Samantha Brown

The Turtle Hospital opened its doors 1986. Their mission? To rehab injured sea turtles and return them to their natural habitat, as well as helping to make the beaches and water safe and clean for sea turtles. The hospital has saved over 3,000 turtles to date.

The Arts

From an annual pass to a museum, to tickets to a play and even buying an original piece from an artist, there are so many ways to support your local art scene. Here’s a few artists I’ve highlighted on Places to Love.

American Visionary Art Museum – Baltimore, MD

charitable giving places to love

A great place to see art and philanthropy in tandem is at Baltimore’s American Visionary Art Museum. At the AVA, you’re surrounded by art created by outsiders, including the stunning mirror mosaic that covered the building’s exterior. This projected was completed by the largest apprenticeship program for incarcerated youth in the USA, and it took 14 years to complete.

The Barrett Art Center – Poughkeepsie, NY

charitable giving - barrett art center

On a residential street in Poughkeepsie, you’ll find the Barrett Art Center—a gallery featuring contemporary art curated globally. 

Black Theatre Troupe – Phoenix

Places to Love - Phoenix - Samantha Brown

When it comes to fostering understanding between people of different backgrounds, nothing quite compares to the arts. That’s why Helen Mason founded the Black Theatre Troupe in 1970. A parks and recreation manager for the city, she saw the need for poetry, song and dance as a way to be expressive against the racial injustice that was tearing other communities apart. 49 years later, this theater company still exists.

Project Row Houses  – Houston, Texas
Founded in 1993, PRH is a unique experiment in activating the intersections between art, historic preservation, affordable and innovative housing. The community includes a group of shotgun houses restored in the 1990s, eight of which serve as studios for visiting artists. Thanks to donor support, PRH also provides a strong safety net to struggling young mothers and continues to do groundbreaking work with socially-engaged artists.

The Rothko Chapel – Houston, Texas

The Rothko Chapel is a spiritual space, a forum for world leaders, a place for solitude and gathering. It’s an epicenter for civil rights activists, a quiet disruption, a stillness that moves. Founded in 1971, intimate, non-secular sanctuary offers a tranquil meditative environment. Not surprisingly, it gets its name from its namesake inspiration: American painter Mark Rothko, who has 14 murals here. Entry is always free. That’s why they depend on donations.

Nasher Sculpture in Dallas

nasher dallas - charitable giving

Open since 2003 and located in the heart of the Dallas Arts District, the Nasher Sculpture Center is home to one of the finest collections of modern and contemporary sculptures in the world, the Raymond and Patsy Nasher Collection, featuring more than 300 masterpieces by Calder, de Kooning, di Suvero, Giacometti, Hepworth, Kelly, Matisse, Miró, Moore, Picasso, Rodin, Serra and more.

Parks and Gardens

Outdoor enthusiasts, amateur botanists and those of us who just love nature will enjoy a pass or donation to their favorite natural oasis.

National Parks Pass

joshua tree - gifts that give back

I’ve visited many National Parks on Places to Love, including Joshua Tree and Acadia. I think a National Park Annual pass makes a great gift. At $80, it’s ideal for anyone spending more than a day at any of the 2,000 sites managed by the Forest Service, National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Hot tip: The pass activates at purchase, so consider a digital gift card so your recipient can redeem when they’d like their year membership to start.

State Park Pass
There are so many wonderful state parks, and the gift of a pass makes it easy to visit lots of them. One of the best I’ve visited is Garrapata State Park near Big Sur. The park has two miles of beach front, with coastal hiking and a 50-foot climb to a beautiful view of the Pacific. Sea lions, harbor seals and sea otters frequent the coastal waters. You can even see California gray whales during their yearly migration!

Santa Fe Conservation Trust

Samantha Brown Places to love - Santa Fe

One of my favorite activities? Hiking. In Santa Fe, it’s all about the Dale Ball Trails. Just 10 minutes from downtown you’ll find 22 miles of trails offering stunning views of the city. Tim Rogers of the Santa Fe Conservation Trust showed me around, and let me do some of my own wandering. Getting into nature is such a great way to feel connected to a destination, and these public lands are the perfect place to do just that.

Squam Lake – New Hampshire

squam lake - places to love - charitable giving

Through spectacular live animal exhibits, natural science education programs, an informal public garden, and lake cruises, Squam Lakes Natural Science Center has brought people Nearer to Nature since 1966. The Science Center is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA); they are the only AZA-accredited institution in northern New England.

Botanical Gardens and Conservatories

Have a plant lover in your life? Why not give them a pass or make a donation to your local botanical garden? And if you’re shopping for someone in a cold climate, remind them that a trip to a conservatory warm and humid—the perfect antidote to winter!

Desert Botanical Garden – Phoenix, AZ

Places to Love - Phoenix - Samantha Brown

I love Phoenix’s Desert Botanical Garden, featuring 50,000 desert plants, from the Sonoran to around the world.  With five thematic trails, you can get lost in thought or conversation without worrying about getting lost (or accidentally stepping on a snake).

Innisfree Gardens

innisfree - charitable giving

Innisfree Gardens, located in the Hudson River Valley, were designated by Congress as a National Heritage Area. It’s a place where culture, history and a beauty of landscape should be preserved. The 180-acre park features a number a different types of gardens—from Modernist and Romantic to Chinese and Japanese—all set around a 10,000 year old Glacial Lake.

Preston B. Bird and Mary Heinlein Fruit and Spice Park – Redlands, Florida

miami - places to love - charitable giving

Know someone who lives (or snowbirds) in South Florida? Send them here. Located 35 miles south of Miami in Redlands, you’ll find plant life from around the globe. There are over 500 varieties of spice and fruit plants and trees carefully nurtured by the dedicated staff. A trip engages your senses: You’ll be invited to taste any that have fallen (grabbing ‘em off the trees is a big no-no). You can smell curry or allspice leaves. You can touch—or hug—as many trees as you’d like.

Agriculture and Food Insecurity

Nothing breaks my heart more than knowing how many people, especially kids, go hungry. Why not make a donation to your local food shelf? Alternatively, you can become a sustaining donor to an organization like No Kid Hungry. You monthly donation goes farther than a one-time gift because it allows the organization to have a better idea of their yearly budget.

ECHO Global Farm

Due to its sunshine and humidity, the Florida climate makes for some excellent farming. However, at ECHO Global Farm, it’s about more than growing local produce. Globally, over 500 million farming families rely on one or two acres to eke out a living. ECHO is dedicated to helping families make the most of those small scale farm through face-to-face, hands-on training all over the world. Additionally, ECHO introduces sustainable plants, techniques, and technologies to farmers.

BVI Seeds of Love – British Virgin Islands

British Virgin Islands - Places to Love - Samantha Brown

Thanks to generous global efforts, the British Virgin Islands has made great strides in rebuilding after the devastation of Hurricanes Irma and Maria. There is an urgent need to replant the islands’ indigenous trees and vegetation to protect the entire ecosystem. A generous donation of 3,000 fruit trees from their Caribbean neighbor St. Vincent and the Grenadines started the Seeds of Love process. They now implement an optimal planting plan and schedule; raising awareness and funds; organizing volunteers and voluntourists to assist in replanting; and involving local and global communities in these important efforts.

Kids and Education

Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women

Places to Love - Baltimore - Samantha Brown

BLSYW is a college preparatory school with an emphasis on leadership and academic excellence and enrichment in a single sex environment. The BLSYW Way embodies leadership, girl power, college readiness, high expectations and a strong support network. Through academics and social emotional learning, BLSYW students are taught to develop a strong sense of self, sisterhood, compassion, and good decision-making.


Tourism Cares
Since its inception, Tourism Cares is known for bringing all sectors within the travel industry together to create positive change. Whether it’s been helping in disaster relief efforts or planning for our industry’s future, when Tourism Cares calls, the travel industry has always responded. From valuable networking opportunities to creating connections to solve specific challenges, they bring travel together.

What’s your favorite organization to donate to annually? Share in the comments!

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Samantha…

    Thank you for all this information. It is perfect. For many years we have given museum membership as gifts for the holidays, birthdays and events. It is ideal to help the museums and for people to use it to learn.

    Thank you for this.

    Happy Holiday.


  2. This Article was inspiring to learn of all the nonprofit and charitable organizations that “Places to Love” have brought to the forefront. Keep on doing what your doing. I remember many of the episodes promoted here. We can all learn were in this together! I shared the article.

  3. Riverbanks Zoo and Botanical Gardens in Columbia, SC One of the leaders in populating species we are concerned of becoming extinct. Great Membership to give a friend–especially anyone with kids,

  4. Thanks (I have your suitcase and carryon bag, yay) I loved all the great suggestions. I too believe no one should go hungry but much more, I am concerned about the world wide issue of clean drinking water. Any suggestions?

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