“If I hit the lottery, I’d open my own animal sanctuary, feed hungry children, help the elderly, and give a bunch of money to family and friends.”

We’ve all had our own lotto-winning fantasies and we wish we could help others more often. Sometimes, you might not have the money to help anyone, and that can be frustrating.

Here are some ways you can still be charitable, without spending a thing:

Give While You Shop: 

  • The easiest way to provide financial support to your favorite charities, schools, and other organizations is to shop on Amazon Smile. You choose what organization you want to support, and a portion of every purchase you make is donated to your favorite cause. You don’t pay higher prices by using the link, and if you already shop on Amazon for food, gifts, books, or office supplies, it’s an easy way to show support if you don’t have any money to donate. Bonus savings: If a nearby store sells gift cards (such as Amazon) and provides shopper rewards for your purchases, buy yourself some gift cards for stores you need to shop at anyway, and rack up the bonus points and perks!

Donate “Junk”:

  • If you have an old car that isn’t worth much and doesn’t run, you can donate it to a charity that accepts junk automobiles, and use the donation as a tax deduction. Make-A-Wish, Habitat for Humanity, and The Humane Society, to name a few, have these programs. More charities can be found on CharityNavigator.com.
  • Instead of throwing away old papers and junk mail, many charities, schools, libraries, etc. have special dumpsters to collect paper and they can sell it for recycling and earn money (make sure you remove any personal info from the papers, or ask if you can shred the papers first).
  • Extra paint, furniture, doors, cabinets, area rugs, fixtures, flooring, sinks, tools, lumber, hardware: These are all items that Habit for Humanity collects and sells at a reduced cost at their resale shops. If you have these items sitting around and they’re in decent shape, consider donating them to this worthwhile cause. If you don’t have anything to donate, you can shop there for things you need for your next DIY home projects. Look at you being all frugal and philanthropic!
  • Most animal shelters post a wish list on their website, and they may need things you have on-hand such as clean towels and blankets. If the colors are faded or there’s a stain or tear on them, it’s okay! Don’t throw them away.
  • Did Aunt Julie give you another gift you hate this year? Keep it in the original packaging, and donate it to a thrift store or other charity. Just make sure you have an excuse handy if she asks about it. You might want to wait a year or so if she visits regularly.  If it’s a gift card you won’t use, and if she’s not on Facebook or other sites, you can always offer it up at a discount and advertise that the proceeds from the sale will be donated to your favorite charity.

Donate Your Time or Talent: 

  • If you’re having a party for a milestone birthday, a wedding, or other event, ask that guests bring donations of nonperishable food or pet food in lieu of gifts. You can take these donations to a local food bank or animal shelter.
  • If you love animals, a free or low-cost spay/neuter group might need help on surgery days, and you don’t need to be a vet tech to help. Sometimes they just need people there to assist with intake, or with cleaning and keeping the place organized since they work in a high-volume and fast-paced environment.
  • A charity group might benefit from t-shirt sales, so if you’re good at design, offer to design the merchandise. So many local charities offer shirts for sale, but some have very amateur designs, and with a cute slogan and clever design, the sales will skyrocket. Also, try to choose both light and dark colors of clothing, because people tend to prefer one or the other, and you want to appeal to a larger number of people.
  • A local charity might need someone to check in on elderly people in your area, to provide support, help with errands, give them a ride to an appointment, etc. Ask how you can help.
  • A homeless shelter might ask for donations of prepared food from restaurants, so if you’re the persistent type, you can always talk to owners or managers of restaurants or catering companies and ask if they’d be interested in providing meals to the shelter that night. Giving that establishment a big thank you on social media also will provide positive exposure, which will encourage them to do it again!  Maybe their competitors will see it, and want to help too!
  • Some organizations or communities plant flowers in a public space, or brighten up a community area with a fresh coat of paint; some choose a day to clean and pick up litter. They always need volunteers. Ask around, and find some ways you can assist, and recruit your friends to help.

Share and Comment:

  • Fundraising and crowdsourcing websites are all the rage. If you’re on social media, you’ll see many pleas for help with medical bills, veterinarian bills, losses due to fire, and even for funeral expenses, usually with a link to an online fundraising or crowdsourcing website. It can be discouraging when you want to help but can’t afford to give any money, especially if you’re close to these people (or their pets) in need. Very few of these posts ever go viral or earn more than the average ~$1,100, so the best way you can help when money’s tight is to share the link on your own social media pages or via email, and type a little note that explains how you know this person and how badly they could use help, even if it’s only $5; it all adds up!  Just by sharing and asking others to share and/or donate, you’ll increase the odds of someone new seeing the campaign and helping with a donation. Some people have a “soft spot” for, or previous experience with, a particular plight, so sharing can strike a chord with just the right person who wants to assist, and can afford to do so.
  • Bonus tip: If you need to do your own fundraising, be aware that some websites charge a fee (usually around 5% of funds raised), so make sure you choose a service that is truly free, such as YouCaring. You’ll also want to find out beforehand if the funds raised will be subject to income tax or not. If you make your own fund-raising page, upload copies of receipts (with personal info concealed), include photographs, and have someone proofread your entries/updates before you post them. If the fund-raising page has typos, poor grammar, and/or lack of proof, a legit cause can look suspect to a stranger. Those extra details really make a difference in how others view the cause, so make sure you are thorough.
  • Ask your employer to get involved in a day of caring. This is a day everyone in the company gets together to help a local cause. Other ways companies can help is to pay employees for one day or a half-day of charitable work per month (or other set period of time). If they balk at the suggestion, provide a list of other companies that do this, and all of the positive PR they’ve received as a result.

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” – Gandhi

Giving when you are also in need really puts things into perspective. Someone out there has it much worse than you do, so you’ll feel gratitude for what you have. You’ll also find that giving energizes you and sets a great example for others to follow.  Try some of these tips, and think of your own ways you can contribute to causes you care about. You won’t regret it!