The upsides of giving back are well-documented. It makes you feel good. Research has shown it can contribute to lower blood pressure and a longer life. But the desire to help your favorite causes can also be frustrating when you can’t send a fat donation and you don’t have a lot of time to volunteer.
The good news is that there are a number of ways you can make a difference without breaking the bank or shaving off another hour of sleep, says Sharna Goldseker, executive director of New York City-based 21/64, a nonprofit philanthropy consulting organization and author of Generation Impact: How Next Gen Donors Are Revolutionizing Giving. With a little focus and forethought, you can make philanthropy a way of life without a lot of time or money.
1. Focus Your Giving
While it may feel like you don’t have enough money to donate to the causes that matter most to you, you may be surprised at how much you’re giving to those that aren’t as high a priority, Goldseker says.
People typically give in three broad ways. Goldseker says. The first are communal gifts—cookies you buy from the school fundraiser, electronic donations to friends’ 5K fundraisers, or donations to your alma mater. Then there are the things you personally had an experience with or care about, such as if you support charities related to an illness a relative had or if you were a dancer and donate to a dance program for under-served children. And the third category is where your values and personal interests align. For example, supporting organizations that address climate change or animal welfare.
“People are surprised to find that they’ve contributed much more in the communal commitment category than into something they care about. Sometimes, making a bigger impact is simply a matter of adjusting those percentages,” she says. When you make a plan to focus your giving, you can better choose how you want to make an impact.
2. Team Up
Use the communities around you to create a big impact, says Kimberly Shirk, senior marketing strategist at Lincoln, Nebraska-based HR consulting firm Talent Plus, Inc. Her firm formed a social responsibility team that looks at ways they can give back while also creating team experiences. They organize simple fundraisers, like having a “jeans day”—anyone who pitches in can come to work casually. If your office uniform is already casual, you can solicit group donations for other reasons or use the power of your team to conduct a food or clothing drive.
3. Use Your Talents
You spend your days developing the skills that make you successful in your career. There are probably nonprofits who could use those skills, too, Goldseker says. Whether you’re a writer who can help with the newsletter, or fundraising letters or a business guru who can give input on new strategies or programs, look at how you can devote a few hours of what you know you do well to an organization that matters to you.
4. Look At Your Ties
People in the philanthropy world often refer to donating “time, talent or treasure,” Goldseker says. But she says that “ties,” or the networks people have, are also valuable. Making connections and helping organizations find the people who can assist with the advice and resources they need is invaluable—and may cost you nothing. “It’s no longer just perhaps a quid pro quo, I’ll give to your organization, you give to mine,” Goldseker says. Today, connections can help with strategic ideas, inspiration, and finding other donors, she says. Making introductions and conducting outreach on behalf of the organization has value.
5. Give A Gift
Instead of trying to find the perfect tchotchke, give the gift of giving back, Goldseker says. She says that she seeks people buying philanthropic gift cards to organizations like Donors Choose or Kiva as presents for friends and children. Similarly, you can donate your birthday to a cause and launch a mini-fundraiser on Facebook, or drop a hint to friends and family members that you’d prefer donations in your name to a particular cause rather than gifts for birthdays and other holidays.
6. Check Your Organization
Many organizations will match employee giving, including 65% of Fortune 500 companies—and as much as $10 billion of matching donations go to waste each year because employees don’t claim them, according to Double the Donation, a platform for nonprofits designed to help increase matching fund donations. By simply checking with your company, you may find that each donation you give to a qualified nonprofit could be doubled.
7. Grow An Endeavor
Self care coach Kaytlyn Sanders, founder of Mountlake Terrace, Washington, coaching firm Beneficial Habits, wanted to focus on just one charity to maximize her impact. “My cause is helping women all over the world thrive in their businesses. This, in turn, gives them freedom, education, and supports a new generation through their children, if they have any,” she says.
Starting in 2007, she has slowly and steadily contributed to Kiva.org. She has grown her investment of $548 into $1,650 and has loaned money to 66 women and groups. “I get updates and know exactly how my lending has helped them, and whenever I get an email that I can re-lend another $25, I do it right then and there,” she says.
8. Shop Right
Look for brands that give a portion of their proceeds to charitable causes or which have a “buy one, give one” model, like TOMS.
Business coach Jennifer Martin, founder of Ojai, California-based Zest Business Consulting uses Amazon Smile. “Sign up, chose a charity and then make your purchases on Amazon as you normally would and 0.5% of the amount you spend gets sent to the charity of your choice automatically,” she says.
9. Use Your Voice
Charitable causes often need advocates who can help them garner support for their causes from legislators, funders, and other influencers. Add your voice to their cause, Goldseker says. Keep apprised of their advocacy, lobbying, letter writing, and other efforts, and join in. Making calls or writing letters can be a quick, inexpensive way to help make a big difference.
10. Give Blood
It’s simple and free, but “most of us never think about blood banks until someone we know needs a transfusion,” Martin says. “Giving blood is the ultimate pay-it-forward opportunity. It just may save a life.”