5 Ways to Give Back When You’re Short on Cash

Elizabeth Marglin

by | Updated: December 10th, 2019 | Read time: 4 minutes

Hot on the heels of black Friday, Giving Tuesday, a relatively new American tradition (its inaugural year was 2012), is here, and with it, the invitation to give back as much as your generosity allows. Celebrated on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving (in the U.S.) and the widely recognized shopping events Black Friday and Cyber Monday, Giving Tuesday alerts us to the importance of expanding our sphere of giving beyond our near and dear.

Woman Knitting Scarf to Donate to Charity for GivingTuesday | Vitacost.com/blog

It’s a collective way to kick off the charitable season, which many of us might meet with an inner yay—or a wince of shame, guilty about the lack of deep pockets to pull from. Despair not, fellow philanthropists in the making: There are plenty of ways to give back that don’t mean flashing that credit card (Givingtuesday.org has plenty of ideas to get you thinking).

I’m in the same boat. For me the idea of giving is embarrassingly challenging, if not downright threatening. I’m stuck in the mindset that money is tight, and that I barely have enough for myself and my family. And yet, I know it is exactly my fisted grip on money that makes it feel even tighter. Baby steps, I tell myself. Maybe I can’t give $100, but I can certainly give $10.

And if you are anything like me, and you can’t give $10, or want to give more but not necessarily cash, here are five ways to give more than you take, however briefly. It’s a surprisingly good feeling, and an especially important one for those who struggle with tightwad tendencies.

1. Give your time

Many nonprofits need people power more than they actually need money. Giving yourself, in ways that can really make an impact, is a huge gift. Whether you have specific skills that are in demand, such as legal counsel, website design and maintenance, accounting or fundraising, or are willing to help out at a food bank or tutoring, showing up for others in tangible ways creates an undeniable impact, both on yourself and the people or mission you are serving.

2. Give your stuff

Pass on whatever you are ready to part with, from old computer equipment, books, clothes and kids’ toys. Many non-profits could use furniture, equipment, and even old cars that will tow away gladly and get a reasonable chunk of change for the scrap value or what they get for reusable parts. Give old clothes to the Salvation Army or Goodwill; many local nonprofits would appreciate your gently used toys. You can even donate your gently loved yoga clothes to My Yoga Exchange, whose aim is to make the practice of yoga more accessible and inclusive while doing our part to protect the environment in the process.

3. Give nourishment

Comb through your pantry and choose some boxed or canned goods to donate to a local food bank. Or when you shop, make it a habit to BOGO on items that are smart, healthy food choices for people who struggle with being able to afford groceries. Many local food banks have lists posted on their website of high priority items they need.

4. Give your handiwork

You can search out charities or ministries that focus on giving knitted items, such as blankets, to shelter animals, needy children or the elderly and sick. Many charities even offer knitting patterns on their site so you can knit to code exactly what they need. It’s a great way to put idle hands to meaningful work: Project Linus calls the people who donate their time to make blankets blanketeers, which has a jaunty ring to it. If you are knitting challenged, as I am, the Snuggles Project has no-sew project instructions on their site. 

5. Give your clicks

For the busy desk jockey, put those clicks to use. Swap out Amazon for AmazonSmile, a relatively recent program (started in 2013) that automatically donates 0.5% of your purchase to a charity of your choice without costing you a dime. Just make sure you start your shopping at smile.amazon.com, the regular website, apps and affiliates won’t instigate the discount. You don’t even have leverage your purchase power to raise money; you can simply surf the web, and play educational games, such as the one on freerice.org, with every correct answer racking up ten grains of rice donated to the United Nations World Food Programme.

These creative giving ideas are just the tip of the iceberg. Once you start digging around the web you may find all sorts of unusual ways to give, such as blood, hair and even your organs. Dare yourself to step outside your comfort zone and give in all manners of ways, from the grandiose to the achingly modest (think ten grains of rice and even how that may matter). You may discover that giving makes yourself not smaller but larger—it blurs and expands the artificial boundary we inadvertently may have placed on where we end and the rest of the world begins.

Editor’s note: Unfortunately, some items can’t be donated – like perishable foods, for example. But don’t sentence them to the landfill! Our Zero Hunger | Zero Waste social impact plan is our commitment to ending hunger in our communities and eliminating waste across our company by 2025. See what we’re doing to change our company and get involved by reducing waste at home with our simple tips.