We all want to help our favourite charities. But what can we do when our finances don’t allow it? How can you give when you have no money left to actually give? In this piece, I’ll be looking at 12 ways you can give to charity without putting your hand in your pocket. I sincerely hope it helps – and helps you to help.
1. Become a Virtual Volunteer
If you can’t donate your money, perhaps you can donate a little of your time? If you want to get involved in a good cause, but there isn’t a soup kitchen or charity shop anywhere near you, don’t worry - you can become a volunteer online.
By donating your time and/or expertise, you can still support your preferred charity, even if there is no physical option to do so (lets face it, travel isn’t cheap!) Virtual volunteering includes activities such as web design, data entry, email correspondence, social media management, fundraising phone calls, app development, content creation and staff support, so there’s something for everyone! Becoming a virtual volunteer can be a CV boost, as well as a stepping-stone towards a great new career.
It can also be a good way to ‘get your foot in the door’ if full-time charity work or a Job in your specialist area is something you’re interested in pursuing professionally. So, if you wish to gain experience in a particular area, or even if you just feel like doing some good, virtual volunteering could be the path for you.
2. Support Good Causes by Shopping
At first glance, this one looks a little silly. You’re probably thinking “wait-a-minute, if I have no money to donate, where am I getting the money to go shopping?” It’s a fair question, frankly. You may be enduring a spending freeze, but you’ll probably still observe customs for birthdays and Christmas (if at all possible).
If you buy any products from Amazon, Then why not buy through charitable causes (such as Macmillan Cancer Support or RNLI, to give just two examples), as much as 5% of your purchase will go back to the charity in question. The company’s new ‘Amazon Smile’ initiative lets you use Amazon, same as always, but with 0.5% (excluding VAT and shipping fees) of the purchase going to the charity of your choice, so you can definitely shop online and do some good in the world at the same time.
Elsewhere online, Facebook allows you to set up ‘Birthday Fundraisers’, whereby friends and well wishers can donate to your favourite causes in lieu of buying you a gift (I myself recently did this in aid of The Cure Parkinson’s Trust). However, there are even more ways that shopping can be used to help worthy causes. As well as checking out your local charity shops (very useful if you’re on a budget, especially for kids toys), there are also ways that online shopping can benefit those in need.
‘Give as You Live’ is an initiative that won’t cost you a thing, but allows for partnered companies (such as iTunes, Tesco, Boots, M&S and many others) to donate to your preferred cause whenever you buy from them. So, if you can’t afford a monthly commitment to charity, but you just found a great album reduced on iTunes, these guys have got you covered.
You can get the album and STILL make a donation. Some places, such as CEX and Dominos Pizza, will actually allow you to donate to a cause of their choice as you make a purchase, which is also worth mentioning, as it inflates your bill only slightly, but adds up in a big way when included with other people’s donations. You can also purchase Christmas cards from many charities – and even give donations as gifts (more on this later).
3. Donate Your Foreign Currency
Something like 64% of all UK-based travellers return to our shores with leftover foreign currency in their back pockets. Even if it’s only a few stray coins apiece, that still mounts up to a lot of scratch. In fact, some estimates have placed the amount as high as £900M per annum. According to The Guardian, the average British holidaymaker returns home with around £28 worth of unused (and unusable) foreign currency. Just 5% of us change it back into Pounds sterling.
If you’re one of the 95% who don’t change the money back (maybe because it doesn’t feel ‘worth it’, or maybe you’re just too busy), then why not donate the remainder to charity? It might not mean a lot to you, but to one of the world’s many charities, it would probably be very gratefully received. “Oh, it’s only a few coppers. Worthless really” I hear you cry, but currency converters Fourex estimate that British citizens are sitting on something like £3BN in leftover holiday/business trip money.
Imagine if everybody donated that dosh! Many charities, such as The Alzheimer’s Society, are only too willing to take foreign coins and notes, converting them into donations. This method of donation has massive potential and has, so far, been rather overlooked as a form of fundraising.
4. Raise a Guide Dog
We all know that guide dogs are amazing, but did you know that many of them are raised by volunteers? If you can’t afford to sponsor a puppy, why not raise one? Raising a guide dog isn’t hugely different to owning a regular dog. Most guide dog charities are simply looking for a person who can provide their puppies with a loving home.
At first, professional dog trainers handle the actual training, but over time, the volunteer will learn to complete most of the talks by themselves. When the dog is fully trained, it will act as a lifeline for the vision-impaired.
Volunteers can do things as simple as walking the puppies, or as important as taking in a puppy and helping to train it. As a disclaimer, I would point out that it can be tough to let go of an animal that you have nurtured and raised and that has become, as all good dogs do, a part of the family. If you are interested in raising a guide dog, it is advisable to read the stories of other people who have done this.
5. Run a Marathon (or Something)
If you’re the athletic type (or even if you’re just looking for a way to get into shape), you might consider running a marathon, or taking part in a sponsored fun run. If you’re looking for a little bit of motivation to help keep you on track, adding charity sponsorship to a weight loss or fitness drive can really do some good.
In order to better make the point, I spoke to Personal Trainer Matt Chiles, an entrant in this year’s London Marathon and veteran of quite a few marathons, half-marathons and ‘Tough Mudder’ events. Here’s what he had to say.
Q: How did you get involved in charity work?
A: I first got involved with the ‘Wallace & Gromit’ grand-appeal (which supports the Bristol children’s hospital) in June 2007 after my brother had lost his brave fight to cancer earlier that year at the age of 18.
Q: What other events have you participated in?
A: I’ve organised all sorts of events, such as charity auctions, karaoke nights, a black tie ball, even a skydive. Of course, I’ve done half-marathons and marathons as well.
Q: How does it feel to compete in a marathon or half marathon?
A: It takes a lot of work and commitment, but it is worth it at the end. That’s why I have now decided to enter the London Marathon on April 28th 2019.
Q: How much money have you raised since you started?
A: Since his passing we have raised over £16,000.
Q: What cause are you supporting this time out?
A: I have selected ‘Children with Cancer UK’.
I hope with my final marathon I can raise more funds and help make a difference to families and children who are suffering. Together, we can kick cancer into touch. If running isn’t your cup of tea, you’ll find that you can do almost anything for charity. Seriously, people have sat in baked bean baths in order to help others, so whatever you want to do, there will almost certainly be somebody out there that will sponsor you for it.
6. Donate Your Credit Card Points
If any of your credit cards offer a ‘points’ system, this can provide another way to donate money without actually spending any. By donating your points, air miles or special offers to good causes, you can make a real difference in somebody’s life and yet, in most tangible ways, you haven’t spent anything you wouldn’t otherwise be spending.
Many credit card companies make it very easy to donate your points to charity, so it should be simple enough to get started. There is also such a thing as charity credit cards, but they aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. In most cases, the interest paid by the cardholder will greatly surpass anything the card company donates to your charity. For now, at least, so-called ‘charity’ cards represent only one thing: false economy.
7. Give People’s Gifts to Charity
Of course, you could always give people’s gifts away...Hmm, perhaps I should clarify that statement? As we touched upon earlier, one way you can give a meaningful birthday, Christmas, wedding (or anything else) present to somebody is to donate money in his or her name.
If your friend is an animal rights activist, they will probably appreciate a gift that helps their cause (such as a donation to IFAW, the International Fund for Animal Welfare). After all, it demonstrates empathy, support and friendship and is therefore a very thoughtful gift. How it usually works is that the person in question will receive a card from the charity (which you can have delivered to them, or give to them in person, its up to you).
The card will explain the good work that the donation is going to go towards and the money goes straight to the charity. Most charities now offer this service. If you know a person who has passed on, then a great way to honour their memory is to donate to a cause they would have supported, or perhaps, if they died from a particular illness, then you might consider donating to a charity that helps other people with that illness. In any instance, there are a lot of options to choose from.
8. Random Acts of Kindness
Doing something nice for others feels good and, whether you buy into the law of attraction or not, there’s no denying that feeling positive is better than feeling negative. By engaging in small acts of kindness and helping others wherever you can, you will begin to feel better about yourself – and when you feel happier and more confident, other people will be drawn to that happiness and confidence.
A positive attitude is a proven pathway to better career opportunities, improved relationships and an all round sense of wellbeing. To share a real-world example, I enjoy taking my three-year-old daughter into the city centre, buying a multipack of snack foods, and then distributing them to any homeless people we find.
The cost is next to nothing, but it is gratifying to see the reaction my daughter gets when she offers people some food. They smile and so does she. Then, of course, so do I. Here are a few other things you can do:
- Support a good cause via social media. Getting involved in something doesn’t necessarily mean spending loads of money. Sometimes simply raising awareness is enough. If you get the opportunity, you can sign online petitions to help your cause. All of this will help you to feel proactive and positive.
- Compliment someone. This sounds a bit odd, but simply passing comment on a person’s hair, jewellery or t-shirt actually boosts their spirits. If a person is on hour 7 of a gruelling 10-hour working day, with more to come tomorrow, a simple “that’s a nice necklace” or “I like your hair” can really make a difference. Of course, you want to avoid coming across as flirtatious (unless you are trying to flirt, that is), but it’s unlikely that the other person will interpret you as anything other than friendly.
- Pick up some trash or recycling and throw it away.
- Encourage somebody. We all know someone who is trying to pursue a seemingly impossible dream, or working hard to get in shape, or going through a messy divorce, or experiencing grief. A simple positive comment or ‘pick me up’ (even a virtual one) can actually go a long way.
- Give someone a random gift. This needn’t cost money. It could be something found in a charity shop, or even something homemade such as a drawing, a painting or a song. If you are so inclined, you can even fashion something for them out of wood.
9. Donate Your Old Stuff
True story: the article you’re now reading was originally written on a donated laptop. A friend had upgraded his device and, knowing that I was experiencing financial difficulties and that I needed a new computer, he gave me his old one. It still had sell-on value, but he wouldn’t hear of it and it really helped out.Giving unwanted things away (via companies such as Freecycle, or even simply upcycling them) is a great way to donate to charity. Even furniture can be given away.
Giving things you don’t want to charity shops, friends and schools helps clear out your space as much as it benefits others. Unwanted toys and teddy bears are always welcome in hospitals. Also, second-hand book initiatives (such as ‘book boxes’) will welcome books that you no longer want, but that others may cherish. In addition, artists, fashion designers, theatre groups, filmmakers and photographers are always on the lookout for interesting things to incorporate into their work, so local am drams, colleges or universities may also take some stuff off your hands.
To return to the first paragraph, donating old computers and consumer electronics can be a very good thing indeed. Schools will sometimes take them, although this is less common these days. Charities (especially ‘Computers for Charities’) will take computers; some of these will go to economically disadvantaged countries. Be aware though, that you will need to perform a factory reset, use data-shredding software and, in some cases, remove the hard drive.
Anyway, a surprising amount of technology can be donated, from phones and tablets to hairdryers and microwaves. It pays to find out if yours can be. Donating old clothes is also a great way to do something meaningful without spending money. According to the Waste & Resources Action Program (WRAP), almost half of the garments we no longer wear go to new homes instead of landfill sites or incineration plants. Having said that, this still leaves something like £140M worth of clothes being disposed of each and every year.
In truth, many of our donated garments are shipped abroad, becoming part of a £2.8Bn second hand clothing industry. This does not mean that they won’t go to the less fortunate, just that the truly indigent probably aren’t getting as much from your donations as you might think.
So what CAN you do with old clothes? Well, when this writer was younger, I was almost always clothed in the hand-me-downs from the older kids in the street, clothes that were then handed down to my younger brother before being donated to others.
Children’s clothes especially are expensive and require constant replacing. Second-hand baby clothes can make a great gift for new parents (believe me). According to Oxfam, they are happy to receive wedding dresses and any clothes that are clean and undamaged, as well as jewellery, bric-a-brac, video games, music and movies, so why not donate some stuff today? It helps a good cause and it doesn’t cost you a penny.
10. Utilise Online Tools
We’ve already covered Facebook (a great tool for activism in general) as well as a few other virtual methods of raising cash to help your favourite causes. Here are a few more ideas... Librivox is an online group that records free audio books.
Any work in the public domain can be read by a volunteer (no experience is necessary) and then made available, free of charge, to anybody. This increases literacy and very much helps the vision-impaired. Charity Miles is another interesting idea. You simply download the free app, which tracks your movement, then take up jogging, hiking, or even walking to work.
The app will then automatically donate to your choice of 40 partnered charities. According to their website, this company has raised over $2.5M already. Donate a Photo lets you take a picture and give it away. It can be a photo of anything at all. For every picture that passes through the app, Johnson & Johnson donate $1.
11. Volunteer for Something
We covered virtual volunteering back in subheading 1, but physical volunteering must also be discussed. A number of charities offer opportunities for volunteering, including The Shark Trust, Mountain Rescue, Refugee Rescue and Watersafe Search & Rescue.
Some of the volunteer positions listed above require relatively young, fit people who can be trained to rescue those lost at sea, or up in mountains. However, charity volunteers come in all shapes and sizes, all ages, genders, creeds, religious affiliations, orientations and whatever else you happen to be. Basically, if you’re willing to help somebody, then chances are that somebody out there is willing to let you (and happy to have you on board).
When visiting the site of your preferred charities, it is always worth looking for a ‘volunteer’, ‘get involved’ or ‘how you can help’ section (it is usually next to the ‘donate’ button). You’ll be surprised just how helpful you can be to these charities, as well as how much good that you, personally, can do, even if you’re strapped for cash.
12. Donate Through Your Pay
The Association of Payroll Giving Organisations (APGO) offers a way of making a monthly donation via your employer’s payroll. You simply choose a charity to donate to and the money automatically leaves your pay at the end of the month and goes out to that charity.
The downside of this is that your employer needs to be an APGO partner. The upside is that, if you can convince them to become one, you can probably encourage lots of people in your workplace to also pick charities to donate to.
If you’re unsure as to whom you want to help most, below are a few ideas. Whatever cause you care about, you can be sure that there’s a charity for it. Organisations such as The Katie Piper Foundation (which helps victims of acid attack), It Gets Better (which aids and empowers LGBT youth), The Polycystic Kidney Disease Charity (a group aimed at finding a cure for PKD), the Whale & Dolphin Conservation Trust (WDC), Wateraid (which aims to bring water to everybody in the world) and, of course, the mighty Amnesty International, will all gratefully receive donations, as will many of the others linked in this article (and countless more beyond that).
So whoever you are, whatever causes you wish to support, just keep in mind that you don’t need wads of money in your back pocket to make a difference to this world. You can be amazing simply by doing amazing things.