There are only a few days left to squeeze in your charitable gifts for 2010–and options abound.  If I was as organized and systematic as I dream of being, I would have scheduled monthly deductions that spread out over the year–but in the throes of early parenthood it’s often tough to think beyond sleep, cloth diaper laundry, and dinner.

A few weeks ago we started our charity efforts with a toy purge. It took us hours, but we sent off five large boxes packed with high quality toys for other children to enjoy.  This prevented us from being overwhelmed with the new holiday loot and gave us the good feeling of passing along valuable items–many of which were purchased at thrift stores to begin with!

Then we decided on our big monetary gift of the year.   Because of our years of travel in the developing world and the extreme hospitality we always experienced, that’s where we direct our funds.  The money  we send to women and children in impoverished countries can stretch quite far–especially with sustainable charities. For example, Finca, provides microloans to women so that they can start their own businesses and support themselves.  Over 90% of the loans are paid back, so the money will be cycling through several women’s lives for years to come.

I also love Heifer International since it purchases animals that then breed more livestock to be shared with other families.  The goats, cows, and chickens produce food for families while their offspring continue to help the program grow.

Habitat for Humanity is another sustainable charity that offers families affordable housing while requiring recipients to make very low house payments and put in volunteer time building homes for others in their community.  In my brief experience building homes in Mexico and the U.S. with Habitat, the families receiving the home worked alongside volunteers and other homeowners on a daily basis.  They weren’t shy or embarrassed about getting their home because they built it themselves and had agreed to pay for it.   I experienced a ground roots sense of community empowerment that was powerful.  While Habitat International is a religiously affiliated group, they don’t limit their efforts to religious families.

Unicef won our donation this year, since they’re specifically targeted toward children and are very efficient with their funds.  They use low-cost methods to save children’s lives and every donation made between now and the end of December will be doubled.

If my baby was already completely potty trained, I’d also donate some gently used cloth diapers to Teeny Greenies. It’s a non-profit that lends cloth diapers to anyone interested in trying cloth, all for free.  There are currently local branches in Texas, Minnesota, Iowa, and South Carolina.  What a great way to support new families as they get a no-risk chance to experiment with cloth diapering!

If you want to check how much of your donation actually reaches it’s targeted cause, check out Charity Navigator. It provides star ratings so you know that you’re choosing well.  (The only four star charities listed above were Habitat for Humanity and Unicef, with Heifer coming in at three stars.  Sadly, Finca had just two stars).

What are your favorite charities?  Do you prefer environmental organizations, local networks, or international charities?  Do you do your giving all at once or spread it out over the year?