Study finds the top ways altruistic Americans give back

The average American carries out five good deeds a month, according to a new survey.

Whether it be helping someone with directions (66 percent) or holding the door open for a stranger (65 percent), it really is true that the smallest thing can make a big difference to someone.

Over half (53 percent) of those surveyed have even gone so far as to pay for a stranger's meal.

Other good deeds people have carried out within the past year include: helping someone carry their groceries home (55 percent), picking up litter or garbage (53 percent) and giving change to a panhandler (47 percent).

The study conducted by OnePoll on behalf of Vitamin Angels, examined American's charitable habits ahead of Giving Tuesday - a national day devoted to giving back.

People are more willing to give back after being on the receiving end of someone else's good deed - approximately 20 percent more likely in fact.

After being on the receiving end of someone paying it forward, 88 percent of respondents said they then returned the favor to a stranger.

Respondents were also asked to share the nicest thing a stranger has ever done for them. Answers included simple acts of kindness such as asking them how they were doing to returning lost wallets.

One respondent even shared a story of a big rig trucker helping them change their flat tire on a cold winter night, allowing the respondent and their son to sit in the cab to keep warm.

People aren't just generous with their time, but also their wallets.

Of those surveyed that currently donate to a charity, their monthly monetary donations are an average of $41.39.

Despite their charitable habits, seven in 10 respondents said they feel guilty if they do not donate to charity during the holiday season.

Furthermore, 83 percent agreed that they wish they could give more throughout the year - with 64 percent citing that their own financials limit them.

When it comes to researching what charities to contribute to, men were 14 percent more likely to turn to social media instead of women (at 81 percent and 67 percent, respectively).

Most Americans, 76 percent, go directly to the charity's website to do their research before pulling out their wallets.

When it comes to the best way to make an impact, four in five respondents agreed that monetary donations are the best way to ensure the charity carries out their work.

"Whether your donation to charity is big or small, you are making a significant impact in the lives of some of the most vulnerable people in your own community and globally," said Howard Schiffer, President & Founder of Vitamin Angels, a global non-profit working to end malnutrition. "Giving Tuesday is a great opportunity for donors to maximize the impact of their funds because many organizations have partners who are matching donations during the holiday season."

The top charities Americans prefer donating too include those that help children (76 percent) and those that help women (61 percent).

A whopping 87 percent of Americans also said they prefer to donate to charities that not only make a difference in their local community, but also around the world.

"We are reaching millions of undernourished women and children in all 50 U.S. states and globally in over 70 countries," said Schiffer. "If you only have $5 to give, at Vitamin Angels, $5 matched would provide two at-risk pregnant women with prenatal multivitamins or forty young children with vitamin A -an essential nutrient undernourished children in developing countries need to combat preventable blindness, illnesses and even death. That's a huge, life-changing impact for a small investment."