As we begin the last full work week before Christmas, I’m going to try a little something different.

At this time of year, in addition to spending money on gifts, I try to make a point to give money to organizations that do important work. We do this throughout the year, but I budget some extra to give more at the holidays.

This year, instead of one large-ish donation to a favorite organization, I’m going to give several smaller donations to smaller local organizations.  These are organizations I know either personally or professionally, that are perhaps not as well-known as some of the bigger charitable causes.  All of them are organizations to which I’ve never donated money directly before (though for some, I have donated time).

And I’m going to have an audience participation component.

I work for an organization that depends on individual donations to exist.  So I know from personal experience how hard these times are for organizations that depend on donations.  Economic times are tough- really tough (as we know first hand in my family, where one sibling is out of work and another may be shortly).  Times like these are a double-whammy for organizations that provide much-needed services, since the need increases dramatically at the same time donations taper off to a trickle.

So for the next five days, I’m going to feature one organization each day.  I’m hoping that I can spread the word on some places that are quietly doing very cool work, the kinds of places that might be really hurting as people are unable to give as much in these lean times.  I’ll tell you a little about the organization and its mission, give you a link to more info, and then YOU will determine the amount of the donation I make.

Here’s how it’s going to work:

1. I’ll put up a post featuring the organization.

2. I’ll guarantee a minimum $25 donation to that organization.

3. For every comment I receive on that post, I’ll donate an additional $0.50.  There will probably be a cap, but I’m not quite sure what it is yet- I’m hoping people amaze me with their participation and I have to stretch my budget! (Hats off to RudeCactus, whose brilliant idea I am totally stealing.)

4. Here’s the twist: I have four organizations in mind to feature.  Friday is open.  I’m hoping that in addition to me telling you about some of my favorite causes, you will use the comments section to tell me a little about some organizations near and dear to your heart.

If you have a favorite organization, perhaps one that is smaller and deserves a little support this holiday season, name it in the comments, and provide a link if you have one (if you’re participating every day, you can name several different organizations, or just name the same one four times to show the depth of your love for them!)  I’ll research each organization suggested in the comments, and will chose five finalists.  On Friday, I’ll name the five finalists, and will set up a poll for people to vote on which one should receive a final $50 donation.

I hope this will be fun.  I hope some of you will get inspired by the organizations I feature, and I hope that I will learn about some great organizations I’ve never heard of before.  I hope I will hear from some people who’ve been quietly reading, but have never had a reason to comment before.  Mostly, I hope people blow me away with their goodness, the way Chris was blown away when his effort raised over $500(!).

So now, without further ado (that was quite enough ado, wasn’t it?), our first featured organization:  North Lawndale Employment Network, makers of the super awesome Beeline line of products.

Rather than try to explain it myself, I’m going to quote from their mission:

Sweet Beginnings, LLC is committed to training and employing residents who are often locked out of the traditional labor market due to past criminal records and other barriers to employment. Sweet Beginnings, LLC uses an alternative business model called social enterprise or social purpose business to provide men and women who are re-entering the community from prison, viable opportunities to establish a work history, learn productive work habits, and gain marketable skills as a stepping stone to further employment and career advancement.

NLEN, established in 1999, is a nonprofit organization with the mission to improve the earnings potential of the North Lawndale community through innovative employment initiatives that lead to economic advancement and an improved quality of life for residents.

I’m featuring them first in part because I know many of us are still looking for last-minute gift ideas,  I can personally attest to the quality of the honey and bath products at Beeline, and their packaging is super cute and gift-ready. So if you have a gourmand in your life, check our their website, and consider giving the gift of urban honey!  (Buying their stuff is a way to support a great cause even if your budget doesn’t have room for cash donations at the moment.)

So now it’s up to you.  I’m committed to giving North Lawndale Employment network a donation of at least $25, but it could be a lot more- so start commenting!  (And thanks for reading this far as I try this totally off the wall new thing.)