- Updated April 13, 2023
Philanthropy isn’t reserved for the rich and famous. Everyone, no matter how much money they make, can donate to charity in some way.
Of course, you may have to think outside of the box to find a method of donating that works well for your finances, but it’s certainly worth the effort. This will allow you to enjoy some of the many benefits of donating to charity, while still positively affecting the world around you.
Here are a few ideas to help you get you started, so you can start giving back, regardless of your current income:
Consider donating a portion of each paycheck to a charity of your choice. Even if it’s only a few dollars, this offers direct support to philanthropic organizations and a little can go a long way.
To ensure you don’t forget, you can set up automatic payments online, either through the organization you want to support or your bank. You can also do so manually, which may be a good option if the amount you earn varies from paycheck to paycheck.
Instead of online donations, you could also mail a physical check or cash. It simply depends on your preference and what method is most convenient for you.
If you have a life insurance policy, you may be able to use it for charitable donations. You can set up your policy to pay out part of your death benefit to a cause or organization you care about. You could also transfer ownership of your policy to a charitable organization. You can even apply for a new life insurance policy for the express purpose of making a charitable donation.
Keep in mind that you can’t do this with every policy. You’ll have to compare different policies to find one that works for your needs and finances.
You don’t need money to donate to charity — your time can be just as valuable, if not more, than your cash. This is a good alternative if money is tight, since you can give back without breaking the bank. What’s more, it can also be beneficial for your physical, mental, and social health. Volunteering may feel more rewarding and may ultimately be a better way for you to give back, even if you do have the means to donate money, too.
There are several things to think about when deciding which charity to volunteer with, including:
It can take time to find an organization that suits your needs, and vice versa. Don’t be discouraged if your first few attempts don’t work out. Even if you don’t work with an organization long-term, you still did something positive for them. Further, it’s worth being patient and continuing to search until you discover a charity that you want to commit to.
If you feel ambitious, you can create a private foundation. It’s quite the undertaking, but creating a foundation does ensure that your money will go exactly where you want it to.
These organizations typically don’t do charitable work themselves; rather, they collect money and resources to donate to other causes. You don’t need to be a billionaire to create and fund a foundation, as even small contributions can be helpful.
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) imposes strict regulations on private foundations. And, regulations aside, there is a significant amount of research and work that goes into creating and maintaining a foundation. Think carefully before committing to this idea; it isn’t something that should be taken lightly. The rewards can be great, as long as you’re willing to put in the work.
You can use donor-advised to manage donations from multiple sources on behalf of a single charitable organization. They’re a popular alternative to creating a foundation, as they don’t require as much money and time to maintain. A third party is responsible for managing the DAF and distributing funds to the cause you select.
DAFs also offer plenty of flexibility in what you can contribute. In addition to cash, you can also donate:
Of course, you should still think carefully before investing in a DAF. Be sure to do your research, or even hire professional help, to determine the best organization to work with and which assets you should donate.
Similar to volunteering, you can attend nonprofit events to show support for a cause or organization. Typically, a single organization will put on an event to fundraise for a specific cause. However, multiple organizations may band together to put on a larger event in the hopes of raising more funds.
Common charitable events include:
Even if you don’t make a financial contribution, simply being present at the event can help that organization. If you can’t give any money, you can volunteer to help set up, run, or clean up after the event. You can also encourage other people to attend, particularly those who can make financial donations.
Many major chain stores — including grocery stores, pharmacies, hardware stores, and clothing shops — ask customers to donate money to a cause of their choosing at the checkout counter. You can round up or add a dollar to your total, making it easy to contribute.
Despite claims that stores solicit these donations for their own gain, they only serve as donation collectors. Barring any extenuating circumstances, the funds you donate will go to the organization. If you do want to donate at checkout, just make sure you support the organization in question.
You can even benefit from these donations by deducting them from your federal income taxes — as long as you keep track of your receipts, that is. It may seem minor, but these donations can add up and help offset the personal cost of your contributions.
A giving circle is made up of a group of people who pool their money and then work together to determine where the funds go. They may also donate their time and skills to the same cause. Generally, giving circles focus on supporting local causes and creating a community network of like-minded individuals.
You can look for existing giving circles in your area. Try asking charities and community-oriented organizations if they know of any groups. See if your friends, family, coworkers, and acquaintances are part of a giving circle that is accepting new members.
You can also do some online research. Philanthropy Together maintains a directory of over 2,000 giving circles that allows you to filter groups by cause and location. You may be able to learn about other giving circles by looking at local websites or social media pages.
If you can’t find a giving circle, make your own! It will take time to establish the structure and rules, select a cause, and find members, but you will have more control over the circle and the impact it has on your community.
You can give hard goods in lieu of or in addition to cash donations. Most thrift stores, food pantries, and charitable organizations accept donations of this nature. Some of the most common things you can donate include:
This is by no means a comprehensive list. Depending on what organizations and people need, you may be able to donate just about anything.
You can purchase new items and then donate them to the charity of your choice. However, if you already own some of these goods, you may be able to donate them, too. Be sure to check the standards of the organization you want to donate to, but generally, you should pass along lightly used items that are in good condition.
Finally, ask an organization, family, or individual what they need in the way of contributions. After all, they know best and their answers may surprise you.
This will also simplify the process of donating to charity, especially if you haven’t done it before or you don’t know where to start. Whether it’s money, goods, or your time, they can tell you exactly what to do and ensure your contribution is as helpful as possible.
Ultimately, just remember that any amount of money, time, expertise, or other resources can make a significant difference in others’ lives — whatever route you end up taking to get there.