Forget The Gift Cards, Try 12 Days Of Microphilanthropy Instead

Instead of handing out forgettable gifts to everyone in the office, try these 12 small but meaningful ways to give back.

Forget The Gift Cards, Try 12 Days Of Microphilanthropy Instead

Humans are social creatures. That’s why research increasingly finds that spending money on other people makes us happier than spending it on ourselves.


Gifts are a way of strengthening social bonds. While giving shouldn’t primarily be about your own happiness, it’s not a bad side effect. People give more when they feel better about it.

How should you give? From an efficiency perspective, you want to give generously to a few places. From a happiness perspective, however, each bit of prosocial spending creates its own jolt of joy. So reserve a bit of cash for fun money.

Try out these suggestions for enjoying 12 Days of Microphilanthropy–making the world better on the cheap.


Day 1: Take An Intern Out For Lunch

Not only does your intern get a free meal, he or she gets the gift of your advice, too. Use that hour to share anything you wish you’d known about your company and your industry when you started out.

Totally pressed for time? A quick coffee break will also work.

Day 2: Peruse

Choose a classroom project you’d like to support. Then, donate as little as $1 to help send kids on a field trip, stock a classroom library, or purchase scientific equipment. Give more than $50, and you’ll get handwritten letters from the kids. How awesome is that?


Day 3: Buy Big At A Locally Owned Business

Sometimes prices are higher, though not always. I recently got a great deal buying my new dishwasher through a local appliance store rather than one of the big chains.

If the difference is a few bucks, then think of it as an investment in keeping capital within your community. There’s evidence that locally owned businesses create more jobs per unit of revenue than chain stores.

Day 4: Visit

Plenty of hardworking people wind up in a pinch from time to time. An unexpected car repair or medical bill may take precedence for paying the rent or mortgage one month.


Modest Needs helps people with a one-time need so an emergency doesn’t turn into long-term poverty. Choose a family to support, and feel like you’ve helped humanity in a very specific way.

Day 5: Help A Friend Crowdsource A Project

Rather than scrolling past a Facebook friend’s fundraising request for her band’s new album via Kickstarter or Indiegogo, chip in. Then share the news with your social network. If nothing else, this friend will think you’re an awesome person.

Day 6: Give To Someone Who Asks

I know there are good reasons not to give money to homeless people in the subway–if nothing else, it makes them targets for robberies.


But you can use your discretion here. If a woman in a bus terminal asks for help with her bus fare, the odds are good that’s what she’ll use the money for. If someone’s holding a sign saying he’s hungry, then ask him if you can buy breakfast.

Day 7: Check Out

Peruse lists of international projects, and figure out exactly how little it takes to make a difference. A mere $10, for instance, can pay for a doctor visit for a kid in rural Argentina. Bump that to $12, and you can pay for English classes for a child who’s been rescued from sex trafficking in Cambodia.

If you’re particularly interested in economic development, Heifer International deserves a look. For $20, you can give a family in Bangladesh a flock of ducks, which they can raise and sell.


Day 8: Donate Nonperishables To A Food Drive

Our first impulse for holiday food drives is to clear the pantry of all the junk we haven’t eaten. A better approach? Donate nonperishable food in short supply: protein, such as peanut butter or tuna fish; kid-friendly fare, like macaroni and cheese, soup, and applesauce; or cash.

Day 9: Donate New Underwear To A Clothing Drive

The world is awash in used clothing, but no one wants second-hand underwear. Buy new packs of socks and underwear–especially in kid sizes–and contribute these to the next drive you see going on.

Day 10: Give Cookies

Bake a huge batch and give the extras to someone who could use a little cheering up: a neighbor or friend going through a tough patch, or a colleague who’s been dealing with the side effects of everyone else’s work stress.


Day 11: Give Out An Umbrella Or Gloves

The weather is turning lousy in many places, and not everyone leaves the house prepared. Buy an extra umbrella or set of gloves, and give them away to someone who’s trapped in the rain or shivering on the train platform.

Day 12: Leave A Ridiculous Tip

Especially if your meal was cheap–it’s only a few extra bucks, and you just might make your server’s day.


About the author

Laura Vanderkam is the author of several time management and productivity books, including I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time (Portfolio, June 9, 2015), What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast (Portfolio, 2013), and 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think (Portfolio, 2010). She blogs at