My family believes you don't have to be Bill Gates to be a philanthropist. Everyone has something to share, and every contribution makes a difference. We often give charitable donations in place of traditional gifts for Christmas or other occasions. To help narrow down the list from the hundreds of thousands of nonprofits out there, here's a list of some of my personal favorites (in no particular order).

Children

Sesame Workshop is the organization behind Sesame Street. They tailor programs to local communities' needs around the world, promoting peace through education. Beyond academics, they focus on critical social messages, such as girls' empowerment, AIDS awareness, peace between warring cultures, etc. They recently added a muppet who has autism to help children better understand their peers who may be on the autism spectrum. I absolutely love their work!

Cal Poly ASI Children's Center is a model for excellence in early childhood education. They taught me everything I know. I love them dearly. To donate, follow this link, then choose "Select College(s) and Program(s) for Pop-Up Menu" as the Designation. In the box that pops ups, type "ASI" into the search field and choose "Orfalea Family and ASI Children's Center" when it comes up.

Show Hope, formerly known as Shaohannah’s Hope, is a fabulous organization founded by one of my favorite KLOVE artists, Steven Curtis Chapman and his wife, Mary Beth. It began with the mission to help remove financial barriers to adoption, which has helped more than 4,000 children from over 50 countries connect with loving families. Show Hope has also expanded to include a variety of ways to serve children around the world, including the construction of a care facility in China to provide surgeries and medical care to orphans with special needs. You can make a one-time gift or become a monthly sponsor.

RIE or Resources for Infant Educarers, is the name of both an organization and a philosophy. This is the intuitive, peaceful, respect-based philosophy that drives the infant program at my school and many others. Founded by Magda Gerber, the creator of RIE, the organization publishes articles and books, hosts conferences, trains and mentors infant/toddler teachers in respectful caregiving, and promotes this beautiful approach to anyone who wants to learn about it. You can join as a member or donate to their work in general.

Lekotek is an organization that brings creative toys and play opportunities to children with special needs. They also educate families on inclusion and the value of play for all children.

Alliance for Childhood is a research and advocacy organization that supports "children’s healthy development, love of learning, and joy in living."

Baby Buggy is a newer group my brother discovered. They work with a network of existing community organizations to distribute baby gear (diapers, formula, strollers, cribs, whatever's needed) to families in need. They also make sure those donations are coupled with a support system, such as financial literacy and parenting classes, job training, etc. to help families work toward self-sufficiency.

Room to Read supports the building and maintenance of libraries and schools in developing countries. They seek to promote literacy and gender equality to help all children reach their full potential and contribute to their community. As of 2015, they had reached over 10 million children worldwide!

Make a Wish Foundation grants wishes for children with life-threatening medical conditions. In the United States and its territories, on average, a wish is granted every 37 minutes.

St. Jude Children's Research Hospital is one of the top pediatric cancer hospitals in the country, and they serve children regardless of the family's ability to pay. I am grateful for the healthy kids in my life, and for the ability to help families that haven't been as lucky.

Cecily's Fund provides education opportunities to Zambian children who have been orphaned by AIDS. The children receive everything they need to go to school, and are often trained as peer health educators and teachers to help bring hope to future children as well.

Project Night Night has a simple mission: to ensure that every homeless child has a stuffed animal, bedtime story, and blanket to offer security and comfort while living in a shelter. As many as 1 in 50 American children will face homelessness in their lifetime. When everything else is in flux, having a "security blanket" and stuffed animal to snuggle, and an age-appropriate bedtime story to bring families together, can help protect their emotional and cognitive development. Over 25,000 of these "Night Night Packages" are donated each year. You can get involved by volunteering, donating items, starting a local fundraiser, or giving financially.

Happy Hollow Park & Zoo is a special not-for-profit park that has been a San Jose treasure for generations. Behind the scenes of this peaceful, family-friendly park and sweet little zoo, they are engaged in significant conservation work with endangered species around the world. To have an impact on countless local families and on animals worldwide, donate here.

Tatum's Garden was the first fully-inclusive playground in Salinas or any of the surrounding counties. The playground is fully accessible to enable children with a variety of disabilities to play alongside their siblings and peers. The park has been open and thriving for over a year, but can still benefit from donations toward maintenance and ongoing improvements.

Other Wonderful Causes

The Human Rights Campaign is the nation's largest civil rights organization working for LGBTQ equality. They work at a grass-roots level for both public awareness and legislative change through education campaigns and advocacy. Their mission is to "end discrimination against LGBTQ people and realize a world that achieves fundamental fairness and equality for all."

The Trevor Project is a leading organization for LGBTQ youth. They offer immediate support for those currently in crisis, but also focus on outreach and resources to prevent such crises in the first place. Although they're not affiliated in any way, I think of the Trevor Project as the "micro" or individual level to complement HRC's "macro" level legal and societal work.

FAME: Foundation for African Medicine & Education is a wonderful medical clinic in Tanzania founded by my grandfather's friends, Frank and Susan. They focus on bringing high-quality care to everyone in the community, both at the hospital and through a mobile clinic reaching remote areas, as well as on training the next generation of Tanzanian doctors and nurses so the hospital can become self-sustaining. They also have a successful health education program to help the whole community learn to protect themselves from water-borne illnesses and STDs. In 2015 alone, they delivered 159 babies, admitted 867 patients to their hospital, and helped more than 20,000 people on an outpatient basis. You can watch this video to hear more about their story.

The Graphic Communication (GrC) Department at Cal Poly is my alma mater and a highly unique department. Students study graphic design in the context of print and electronic publishing. It is a beautifully balanced hands-on program, incorporating the art of design, the mechanics of the printing press, the marketing and business sides of the industry, and the communication skills to pull it all together successfully. To donate, follow this link, then choose "Select College(s) and Program(s) for Pop-Up Menu" as the Designation. In the box that pops ups, type "graphic" into the search field and choose "Graphic Communication Department" when it comes up.

Canine Companions for Independence (CCI) breeds, raises, trains, and places exceptional service dogs for people with disabilities. A dear friend of ours, Lee Ann Laraway, had three service dogs in her lifetime, and they truly made all the difference.

The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society funds research to find a cure to blood cancers. Until then, they also provide resources to support families affected by leukemia or lymphoma, to help fund patients' treatments when necessary, and to raise public awareness. Blood cancers account for about 9% of new cancer diagnoses each year, about one every four minutes.

LeaderSpring is a very cool organization where one of my best friends works. They provide leadership training and support for the nonprofit sector. There are a lot of great nonprofits out there; LeaderSpring's goal is to make those organizations more effective by equipping their leaders with the needed skills, strengthening the organizations' systems, and linking nonprofit leaders to one another in a community. You can donate online or by check by following the directions on this page.

Glide is an organization in San Francisco that feeds the hungry every day and provides social programs to help those in need, including helping women to escape domestic violence and empowering families to become self-sufficient. Their programs are designed to "meet people where they are" with love, acceptance, and compassion.

Intelligent Mobility International is a group that provides mobility devices (such as wheelchairs) and social programs to help people with disabilities around the world find employment and become self-sufficient.

IBOK: Itty Bitty Orphan Kitty is an all-volunteer, non-profit, no-kill cat rescue group based in San Jose, CA. They care for and find permanent homes for abandoned or orphaned kittens in Santa Clara County.

Rainforest Action Network works to protect the world's forests through education, grassroots movements, and nonviolent direct action that changes the global marketplace. They have gotten significant results. For example, they recently got Disney (the world's biggest children's publisher) and eight other top U.S. publishers to agree to choose paper that does not come from endangered rainforests, and that utilizes as much recycled content as possible. This includes their books and magazines, tags and packaging, copy paper in their offices, everything.

Hellen Keller Foundation is one of my mom's favorites. They work to prevent blindness and deafness through researching and education. They work to help integrate sight, speech, and hearing research with other biomedical research already being done and to bring the researchers doing this work together with a common goal of ending blindness and deafness.

Wounded Warrior Project is another of my mom's favorites. Their mission is to honor and empower injured veterans and their families. This includes service members with physical injuries and those suffering from TBI or PTSD. The organization helps with job transitions, advocacy, combat stress recovery, and overall well-being, among other important factors. They're on track to serve 100,000 veterans and their families by 2017.

Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties was one of my grandma's favorite nonprofits. As a child during the Great Depression, she understood what too many in our modern world still deal with -- hunger. It's easy to see the affluence in Silicon Valley and forget that more than a quarter-million people in our area rely on the food bank every month for nutrition support. The majority of those are seniors and low-income families with children. Although food drives take place most often around the holidays, the food bank needs support year-round because they feed our neighbors 365 days a year.

Donation Catalogs

GreaterGood.org is a list of many lesser-known charitable partners that work worldwide on issues of hunger, poverty, women's health, children's health, literacy, the environment, and animals. There are also goods you can buy, such as fair-trade craft items, to give to someone along with your donation if you'd like to. My family has found many interesting gift opportunities here!

Alternative Gifts International has a similar catalog of specific ways to donate to various causes around the world. They also have a way to "host a gift fair" at your organization, usually around the holidays, to help more people see donations as a viable Christmas gift alternative.

Heifer International is a gift catalog tailored specifically to empowering people in poverty around the world through sustainable programs. You can donate something specific, such as a goat, and then the family that receives it also receives education in how to care for the goat, to use its droppings to fertilize their crops, to use the milk to enhance their children's nutrition, etc. Some of the goat's offspring are given to nearby families, along with the same education program, to help keep the cycle of self-sufficiency growing. It's a fantastic model.

Kiva is a micro-loan program. You can choose where to invest your gift (such as helping a woman in Afghanistan to buy a loom to start her own weaving business to support her family), and when it gets paid back, invest it again! You can choose the investment for your gift recipient, or you can give them a "Kiva Card" and let them choose. It's a very cool way to make your gift keep going over time.