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Something about wintertime makes you want to bundle up, sip hot cocoa, contemplate life, and give back to be a better member of your community. But let’s face it. It’s hard. Even in the best of circumstances. Maybe you aren’t sure how to help someone else (I mean, you can barely help yourself right?). Perhaps you don’t have the money to share with others (you don’t have to raise your hand if you’re not sure how you’re paying the electric bill this month). Or maybe you can’t fathom the time to be able to do something (we’re all running around like chickens with our heads cut off this time of year!).
First of all, take a deep breath. The biggest reason we feel any of these excuses is simply because we are thinking too big. We are dreaming massively, and while generally, I believe in dreaming big, when you are being shackled by some major real-life issues, its time to scale back your dreams and give back in smaller ways.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t help someone in need, or become a better member of your community. It simply means you need to reevaluate your definition and be open to being flexible. Trust me, there is something magical about a stranger opening a door with a smile at the packed mall. Minimal effort but big results. There are a million ways you can give back, with or without your family by your side!
The Harsh Reality About Charities
Before we jump in discussing how to give back, I want to take a moment to talk about behind the scenes of non-profits. MANY of the individuals working there are doing so on a volunteer basis, especially smaller, local charities. Meaning they often work 10-20 hours a week, for FREE. First and foremost, please give them massive respect for what they are doing. And if they are stressed, try not to take it personally! They are humans!
Secondly, not all charities are the same. While on paper they may sound wonderful, please, please, PLEASE take a moment to check their rating on https://www.charitynavigator.org/. This organization employs analysts who build a complex rating system to give unbiased information about each and every non-profit in America based on their reporting. Meaning if they only use one penny to every dollar you donate, and the rest goes into CIO cushy pockets, they will know and tell you! In fact, if the non-profit your looking for isn’t registered here, that is a massive red flag!
If this happens, first make sure your non-profit is registered for a non-profit tax ID, you can check the validity of it on the IRS website. If it doesn’t come up, please flag on the BBB website! If it is a valid ID reach out to them and suggest registering on Charity Navigator! Now that you understand some charity basics, let’s look at some ideas that combat some of the aforementioned excuses and get you doing something for your community!
[RELATED: Discover Your Personal Core Values]
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20 Ways to Give Back to Your Community
- VOLUNTEER YOUR TIME! Most medium-sized cities have food banks and soup kitchens that desperately need volunteers to help pack or serve food (no donating required!). Eldercare love when people come to just chat or read to people! Housing charities need volunteers to help build shelters or transport materials (no muscle or building knowledge required!). Don’t forget the animals, contact your local domestic or wildlife rescue today to see how you can help! From feeding baby animals to grooming puppies, there are hundreds of ways you can help others without a specific skill set! Download VolunteerMatch app to get matched to a local non-profit today!
- CAMPAIGN! No funds to donate, but still eager to see money go towards a specific non-profit, family in need, or item for a charity? Tell your friends! Use that social media following for good. Often people don’t help others, simply because they don’t know how to. Contact a family or charity, and find out if they need a specific item or just money, then start a fundraiser and SHARE.
- DONATE BLOOD! Blood banks are always in need, stop by on your way home from work (or on your lunch break) to donate your blood and help save a life this season! For more ambitious and brave souls, bone marrow, kidneys, and tissues are always in high demand! The app DonorReminder can help you find local donation drives, and set reminders so you can do it on a regular basis that fits with your schedule!
- SELL UNUSED ITEMS! If you want to donate monetarily but lack funds, consider selling unused items around your house. As you collect money, put it in an envelope to give back to your favorite non-profit or family in need!
- COLLECT BOX TOPS! Yup, they still exist! Each coupon is worth 10 cents for education and shows up on a ton of popular brands. You can still save and collect, but the cut-out ones are currently being phased out, now you can look for the label, download the app, and scan your receipt and the money automatically goes to your school of choice!
- GET CRAFTY! Sometimes donating a little elbow grease can go a long way. One of my personal favorite ways to donate this time of year is collecting yarn from thrift stores throughout the year, and knitting scarves all year long. As the cold season approaches, I drop off dozens of scarves at homeless and women’s shelters. Consider using your crafty skills to donate to a local charity or family in need!
- DONATE UNUSED ITEMS! Speaking of scarves, have any unused scarves, hats or jackets around the house? Shelters are often in need. Call your local charity to find out what kinds of items they need and see if you have any around the house! Animal rescues are often are on the lookout for blankets and cages, and food pantries love travel-sized toiletries. Charity thrift shops take many items, including furniture and cars! Libraries often collect books and other items for yard sales, eye-glass stores collect old frames, elder cares love things like puzzles and board games, and The Freecycle Network collects everything else! Call around, you may be surprised how easily you can help without spending a dime!
- DONATE REWARDS! One of the easiest things to do is to collect rewards from places you shop often. My credit card company gives me cash back and at the end of the year, I apply the credit towards a charity of my choice! Some places let you cash out with a gift card, or PayPal balance, others can apply the money directly to your non-profit of choice! Other places to look for rewards are Rakuten or Swagbucks!
- COLLECT RECYCLABLES! This is a fantastic way to get kids of most ages involved! Walk around your favorite park or walking path and collect recyclables that people toss on the ground! Not only are you cleaning up and making the grounds prettier for everyone to enjoy, but you can also collect the items and trade them in for money to donate to your favorite cause!
- DONATE MUSCLES! “People in need” doesn’t necessarily have to be someone down on their luck during the holiday season. The elderly don’t always have the ability to clean their gutters or mow the lawn. Lending your tools or agility can make a huge difference in someone’s life! Don’t have an elderly neighbor? Check your local facebook group and offer to your muscles!
- WRITE A LETTER! Eldercare and the military love receiving letters from kids! Help your kid’s writer letters with fun drawings and send or drop off at collection points! A simple and rewarding way to make someone’s day and give back as a family this season!
- BE A MENTOR! Offering your skills to local schools, Boys and Girls clubs, or Scout Troops can help someone young learn something new that could change their life forever! Have them tag along for a day, pick your brain over ice cream, or set up an ongoing mentor relationship!
- PLANT A ROW! Community gardens often have a section for those in need you may not have the time, money or knowledge to grow food. A little elbow grease and some cheap seeds can feed someone throughout the year! Contact your local community gardens!
- DONATE A SERVICE! Have a service you could offer to a family in need? Perhaps your photo skills for a family portrait or your design skills for a beautiful Christmas tree? Are you an influencer that could use your network to advocate for someone? Think about your special skills (not necessarily professional!) and think of some creative ways you could donate them to someone in need!
- DONATE HAIR! Have long, undyed hair? If you plan to cut anytime soon, consider going to a hairstylist that will send your hair to a charity that collects to create wigs for cancer patients!
- COLLECT COINS! If you use cash, chances are you have a jar of coins somewhere in your home. Consider cashing those coins in and donating to someone in need this year!
- CREATE A LEGACY! If there is a non-profit you are passionate about, consider adding a legacy gift to your will!
- SPEND WISELY! Donating directly to a non-profit is always the best way to ensure your money is going as far as possible. But if you can’t, then try to spend your money at stores that do good. Check websites to see if they have their own foundation, or donate items or a percentage of sales! Anything is better than nothing and I would always prefer to spend my money somewhere that cares about their world!
- PLAY RESPONSIBLY! There are dozens of apps out there that donate food, items, or money in exchange for your time on the app! Consider Charity Miles, Lazy Jar, Shoparoo, MicroHero, or FreeRice!
- DONATE YOUR MONEY! Donating doesn’t have to be a lot. You should feel comfortable with the amount spent. Check your favorite non-profits to see if they have any drives or options. Remember, $1 can make the difference between life or death for someone. So don’t focus on the amount, just what you can do. Stores often do drives for charities, you can donate a $1 when you shop. Some charities have shops you can buy merchandise or memberships from. Fundraisers and auctions function off of donators, so a ticket can go a long way in helping!
Any other ideas for helping your community this season? How will you get your kids and creativity involved?