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7 Ways to Give Back When You Have Little

Giving back doesn't have to involve money. Here are 7 alternatives to help you make a difference in the world.

It’s true. The poor give a larger percentage of their incomes to charity than the wealthy do. I’ll give you a second if that’s hard to wrap your head around. It was hard for me, too.

A little money can only stretch so far, and it’s difficult when there are so many things pulling on it at once. After building an emergency fund, saving for retirement, paying down student loans, and investing in yourself with healthy food, hobbies, and maybe a gym membership, it’s a wonder if there is anything left.

There are a plethora of causes deserving of our help, but there’s a limit to how much we can help with the piddling change left at the end of the month.

Here are a few ways you can give back without putting a dent in your wallet:

1) Put your back into it.

Time is also a resource that’s in short supply, but if you can find some extra laying around, volunteering is a fantastic way to give back to and be a part of your community. If you plan ahead, it can even be a fun way to spend time with your friends or family.

Start by looking into what you care about: if your passion is working with children, consider volunteering as a mentor. If you don’t know where to start looking for volunteer opportunities, there are several places to look: VolunteerMatch and Idealist are two of the most popular.

There are even ways to volunteer online. Using Skills for Change, you can donate your skills to nonprofits while putting some good out into the world.

2) Cleaning: it’s not just for Spring.

You may think no one could ever want the years-old sweater you abandoned in the back of your closet, but you might be wrong. Donating the goods that you don’t use anymore is a wonderful way to give back. You can even donate old electronics, glasses, and bicycles.

To you it may be old garbage, but to a person in need, it could be a way to contact loved ones, a child’s only way to see the board in class, or free transportation to a new job. Donating these goods to a Goodwill or Salvation Army is fantastic, but it’s even better if you can find a cause in your area that can put your unwanted items into people’s hands for free.

3) Click for change.

One of my favorite ways to do a little good (and learn in the process) is FreeRice, which provides quizzes on various topics and allows you to “donate” ten grains of rice for each correct answer. It works by showing ads after each correct answer by sponsoring companies. If you tire of the quiz questions, there several similar sites supporting various other causes.

In addition to games, there are also some browser extensions that will do the work for you. My personal fave is Tab for a Cause, which gives you “Hearts” with each new web browser tab opened. You can then donate the hearts (which equate to real money) to a charity of your choice. Like FreeRice, this extension is powered by ads. Who knew it was possible to enjoy seeing ads?

Check out some other extensions that help you do good.

4) Donate blood.

It is always important to donate blood, but it is especially important after the holidays and inclement weather. In fact, as I am writing this, the Red Cross is facing an emergency need for donors of all types. A quick Google search will turn up blood drives in your area, or you can contact your local Red Cross chapter for appointments.

If being a little squeamish is the only thing stopping you from donating, try making this the year you get over that fear! The warm fuzzies you feel afterward make it all worth it.

5) Become an Organ Donor.

While 95 percent of U.S. adults are in support of organ donation, less than half are actually registered as donors. Did you know that you can become an organ donor online? It’s a simple process. Anyone can register as an organ donor, regardless of their age or their medical condition.

At the time of writing, over 119,000 people are on the national transplant waiting list, and 22 of them will die every day while they are waiting. Every 10 minutes, a new person is added to the waiting list, and one donor can save up to eight lives. Make sure you are registered today.

6) Slacktivism isn’t all bad.

Even if you don’t have the resources to pour money into worthy causes, you may know people who do. Share posts and articles about causes you care about to your social media feed.

Some may call you a “slacktivist” or “armchair activist,” but I don’t think there is anything wrong with bringing awareness to issues you care about via social media. You might end up introducing the issue to a person who had never heard of it. That’s better than doing nothing at all.

7) Practice random acts of kindness.

Giving back doesn’t have to address a major problem in the world like hunger or poverty. It can simply be a one-on-one interaction.

Helping your neighbor carry his grocery bags or stopping to help someone whose car broke down may not fall under the category of “charity,” but those actions do contribute to a better world for us all. If all you can do today is lend a hand, that’s worth something, too.

Obligatory disclaimer time: Of course, make sure any charity you promote on social media is a real charity. Believe it or not, there are scammers out there who want to take advantage of well-meaning people. Not only do they take people’s money under false pretenses, they also take money that is meant for good causes. Always do a little Google research on charities before giving or promoting them.

About the Author

Natalee Desotell

Natalee graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2013 with a triple major in Political Science, International Politics & Economics, Languages & Cultures of Asia, and a minor in Global Public Health. After a couple years in the working world, she recently returned to her alma mater to study Cartography and Geographical Information Systems. A self-proclaimed public health nerd, her dream job is to communicate epidemiological information visually through beautiful interactive maps and graphics. She enjoys iced black coffee, punk rock music, and surprising people.

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