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How to be Charitable Without Going Broke

ways to give back

I’m what’s known as a soft touch. It’s understood, that if someone needs help and they reach out to me, I’m going to do whatever I can and that includes reading their script, feeding their cat when they go out of town, and/or donating to their charitable causes.

Last year alone, I contributed to five hurricane relief charities, several crowdfunding campaigns, and sponsored a number of people participating in charity events like The Aids Walk, and The Berlin Marathon for the UCSF Cancer Center. And I’m not counting all the times I’ve given money to street musicians and homeless people which would be in the dozens.

Being charitable and helping people out is a very good thing; the problem, at least for me, is that I’m too generous. It’s not unlike me to give $35.00 to a GoFundMe campaign so that acquaintance will be able to pay her rent, even when I’m down to my last $40.00.

I know I can’t donate to everyone and to every cause, but it’s hard for me to say no without feeling guilty and selfish. Since I don’t have a lot of surplus cash, I needed to look into ways that I could help without going broke.

“Look at what you can give—don’t undervalue what you have to offer,” says Aida Ingram, founder, and CEO of Girlfriends with Goals. “All of us have something to offer and money is just one of those things.”

Melanie Young, a certified health coach says, “You can have a giving heart and life without writing a check.”

Using their advice, I came up with some ways to give without breaking the bank.

12 Ways to Be Charitable That Won’t Leave You Flat Broke.

  • Take a visual inventory: We all have extra stuff around the house that a charity would be grateful to get. Toilet paper is the first item to go at relief centers says The American Red Cross, and how often have you gone overboard at a big box retailer? Instead, give those spare rolls to people who could really use them. Some other ideas might be to donate a bag of cat or dog food to an animal charity or give some canned goods to a food bank, and diapers and feminine hygiene products to a shelter. There’s always a need for these items, but especially in times of crisis.

  • Clean out your closets: Give all the clothes you never wear to battered women’s shelters or to a charity like The Grateful Garment Project, which gives rape victims clothing to wear home from the hospital. They’ve already ready suffered a horrible ordeal, giving them some of your clothes that you don’t wear would help to make them feel a bit more empowered.

  • Give your time: Soup kitchens and places like Meals on Wheels always need people to prepare and serve food, even when it isn’t a holiday. Or, you can interact with residents at a nursing home or read to underserved children. One hour of your time volunteering would make a huge difference to someone’s life.

  • Share your skills: Melanie Young suggests looking at your talents and offering to share them with charities. Skills in social media promotions, publicity, bookkeeping services, answering phones, and tech services are often very appreciated.

  • Become a public speaker: If you can get up in front of a crowd, what better way to share your message and motivate people to do what they can? Sometimes, just hearing someone’s survival story about how they were bullied or not accepted by their family because of their gender identity or sexual preference can give hope to others.

  • Get sponsors: Walkathons, bike-a-thons, and even cycle-thons all raise money and awareness for causes, illnesses, and specific individuals. If there isn’t one for a charity you’d like to help, create your own.

  • Donate indirectly: For my birthday this year, I gave my well-wishers the opportunity to donate to the Houston Humane Society while another friend used their birthday fundraiser for The Foundation for Puerto Rico. In addition, when my friend was diagnosed with breast cancer, I started a GoFundMe campaign for her. I hoped that all the crowdfunding campaigns I had donated to would return the favor, and most of them did.

  • Think outside-the-box: I have a friend who makes kits containing toothpaste, toothbrushes, soap, mouthwash, deodorant, and soap, and distributes them to the homeless. Even basic grooming can help lift someone’s self-esteem.

  • Give a part of yourself: Blood is always in demand, but if you have problems giving blood (like I do), you might think of donating your hair for wigs for people who are dealing with chemotherapy or other health issues.

  • Go Green: Pick up trash around your neighborhood, a park, or at a beach. Be as eco-friendly as you can and carpool, use a bike, or public transportation to get where you want to be. Helping the environment helps everybody.

  • Send care packages: Whether it’s sending some candy or knitted goods, people in the armed forces love to get reminders that people are grateful for their service and are thinking about them.

  • Do random acts of kindness: Sometimes just smiling at someone or helping them take their groceries to their car can help brighten their day. Or, pay it forward and buy the person behind you in line a cup of coffee or put some money into someone’s else’s parking meter.

All in all, I’ve learned that there are many ways to help others that don’t involve becoming overdrawn at the bank and that sometimes, these non-financial ways are even more meaningful--both for the people you’re helping and yourself.