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Because I work for a nonprofit, charitable giving sits very near and dear to my heart. Organizations that depend on donated resources to pursue their missions are crucial to the way our world operates. Unfortunately, many of us do not have the financial flexibility to dig deep into our pockets and pull out a donation check. Even when I do make a financial donation, I feel like the person who enters it into their ledger is laughing at me. (This doesn't actually happen, I promise! Every donation helps. But when we have individual donors giving in the thousands, I feel kind of pathetic to hand over the only $20 I have available.)
Fortunately, there are ways to donate resources that won't cost you a dime. I engage in all of these, but you should pick the ones that work best with your lifestyle. Of course, you should always investigate the trustworthiness of an organization before donating — Charity Navigator is a good starting point, and GuideStar will give you the revenue information that tax-exempt organizations are required to report (if you don't mind digging through a bunch of Form 990s).
Save Hotel Shampoo
Rescue missions and domestic violence shelters are always in need of hygiene products, but for safety purposes, they cannot accept donations that have been used. As a result, these organizations often find themselves at a loss for the basic products that I can't stop accumulating in my bathroom. You can help them meet this need by stashing those free hotel toiletries. Remember the episode of Friends when Ross and Chandler take as much free stuff as they can from their expensive hotel? This is kind of like that, except you will be using these for good. And you won't be taking pine cones. When I have to travel, I keep all the mini-bottles and small soap bars and donate them to a group called Silverbackks that makes hygiene packs for homeless individuals. If I'm staying in the same room for several days, I just stash the original bottles in my bag so the housekeeping staff will replenish what was there. I frequently leave with three or four of each bottle to donate to the shelters.
Use Amazon Smile
Amazon Smile will donate 0.5% of your purchase to the organization of your choice. All you have to do is purchase from smile.amazon.com instead of the normal website. That may seem like a small amount, but consider that Amazon's revenue for 2015 was over $107 billion. Half a percent of that revenue is still half a billion dollars that could be donated to charitable organizations if everyone shopped through Amazon Smile. I am currently supporting charity: water through Amazon Smile, but I've changed organizations several times. And yes, it will work with Amazon Prime!
Use Mobile Apps Like Ibotta
Ibotta will give you cash rebates for purchasing certain products. It's a little cumbersome for the amount of money that you end up getting, but once you accumulate $20, you can cash out through PayPal or Venmo. Just for doing your grocery shopping, you can save a little money to donate without doing anything different. So far, I've "earned" about $100. Some people use this same principle and donate the cash back from their credit cards to charity.
Don't Throw Away Decent Furniture
(This says DECENT furniture! Nobody wants your nasty, torn-up, peed-on mattress.) In fact, if you see someone throwing away decent furniture, ask if you can have it. I've done that, and the answer is always a slightly confused "Sure, I don't care." At my work, we often come across clients in need of furniture because theirs has been destroyed. This is why it breaks my heart to see perfectly good chairs, tables, and shelves sent to the dump just because the owners bought new ones. You may think the furniture is old, but that doesn't mean it can't fill someone's need. Studies show that people — especially children or people living in transitional housing — who live in furnished homes and sleep in beds have better psychological health, work and school performance, and self-confidence. Some agencies will even pick up the furniture from your home, so you don't have to worry about fitting it in your vehicle or carrying it yourself. Or, worst-case scenario, you can sell it on Craigslist and donate the money you receive in exchange.
Download Charity Miles
Are you a cardio freak? Or are you looking for an extra incentive to hop on your bike? This app uses your phone's GPS to track the distance you run or bike and logs the information to the account of the cause of your choice. Companies like Johnson & Johnson and Chobani will match each mile you run with a financial donation to the charity. Since I am currently training for a 19.3-mile event, I am getting plenty of miles under my feet. And for every mile, 25 cents goes to a nonprofit organization. If you need some motivation to start increasing your mileage (those easy 3's are just so comfortable!), this is a great way to achieve that AND help out a good cause.
This one technically doesn't cost money, because you'll get the money back, but you do have to give at least $25 upfront. This money goes to somebody who doesn't qualify for a regular loan under their country's banking system, but needs capital to get to the next stage in their economic progress. So far, my money has supported three young individuals needing start up capital to build a business — electronics repair, a dairy cow, etc. I have always gotten my money back, although there is a slight risk of default (as with any loan). There are several microcredit agencies active in the economy (Muhammad Yunus of Grameen Bank won the Nobel Prize in Economics for pioneering this concept), but I love Kiva because the interface is user-friendly.
It allows me to choose which people I want to support. Having spent a substantial amount of time in Central and South America, I have a soft spot for helping those populations, and I always choose them for my loans. You can pick a cause that you care about and, along with hundreds of your fellow supporters, help somebody get the start they need.
Donating your time to organizations will help them (and their overworked staff) get important things done. In particular, groups need people willing to commit to prolonged volunteering that will allow them to become well-versed in the program's operations. Having some subject matter experts in some of the more challenging aspects of an organization is invaluable to us. Sporadic volunteers are also helpful, especially for advertised events that require a lot of manpower. Regardless of whether you do a long-term commitment to an organization or just pop in for a Saturday event, we depend on volunteers to function.
Donating money is great, but donating time is just as important. If you want to help an organization but cannot budget for financial donation, ask what they need help with. Maybe their grants manager needs help writing a proposal for funding from a local foundation. It could be that they just need someone to answer phones so they can focus for a few hours. Or maybe you can help them out by doing some housekeeping — nonprofits need to mow their lawns, too!
Before donating any items, make sure you check to make sure the organization has the capacity to intake, process, and distribute these items. This is a surprisingly time-consuming endeavor, and many organizations decline certain in-kind donations for that very reason. But, there are many organizations that do take them! That is why it is important to ask.