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We all want to give back, but sometimes it’s hard to follow through, especially during times of stress and uncertainty. Even though volunteering has proven physical and mental health benefits, plus social and professional perks, we’ve yet to find easy ways for everyone to get involved in service. That said, according the the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, volunteering rates are at a 10-year low, which is unfortunate considering volunteers provide enormous social and economic value to our communities. So, what’s stopping us exactly? Whether it’s time, money, or a combination of the two, there are a handful of creative ways to make a difference every day that don’t involve either valuable asset.
If you’re wondering how you can make a difference, keep reading. I’ve done some research and come up with 26 easy ways to make a difference right now in your community. Some require time, some require money, and some require having a talent, like taking photos of your food on Instagram. See which one (or ones) of these options best fit into your family’s schedule and try your hardest to be proactive. Let’s do our part to put these stingy American rumors to bed.
1. Clean Out Your Closet
Those clothes you’ve been stashing since high school probably aren’t going to be re-worn anytime in the near future ever. Gather your old clothes and accessories, including items that can be recycled/liquidated/donated, and deposit them at your local Good Will, Salvation Army, or any other boutique thrift store. If you don’t have time to drop off your goods, Salvation Army allows you to schedule a pick up time (schedule yours here), and they’ll actually come to you. Can’t get much more convenient than that.
Also, keep in mind that winter and career-appropriate clothing is particularly useful. If you’d like to help give women in need a fresh start, check out Dress for Success! They welcome all gently-used contemporary professional attire, including accessories, handbags, shoes, and jewelry. Note that they don’t currently accept menswear and have a particular need for sizes 00 to 2 and sizes 14+. If you’d like to help spread warmth, One Warm Coat collects gently-used coats for children, women, and men in need. Through their national efforts, they’ve collected and distributed around 4 million coats to date. Pretty awesome!
2. Keep Tabs
How many times a week do you pop open a can of soda or beer? No judgement– for me, it’s every day, several times a day. Join the Pop Tab Collection Program and help support the Ronald McDonald House by stashing your family, friends, and coworkers’ aluminum can tabs. Truthfully, the whole aluminum can is valuable, but the tab of a standard soda can is made of high quality, high-grade aluminum. When combined with thousands of others and deposited at a local recycling center, it can become a sizable donation to your local RMHC chapter.
Honestly, collecting tabs is one of the easiest and most fun ways to make a difference on this list. Just put out a pretty vase or jar, attach a fun label explaining why you want the tabs, and set it out wherever people will see it. Even if you’re the only one who contributes, every little bit helps. Click here for more information on how to get started.
Plain and simple– everyone can and should recycle. Even if you’re doing your part, check with your family and friends to make sure they have a designated recycling bin and know how/when to arrange regular pick-ups. Also, if your office, church, or school doesn’t have a recycling program, start one (it’s easier than you think). For information on what can be recycled, how to join local campaigns, and general literature on the benefit of keeping our landfills clean, click here.
4. Donate What You Can
Trust me, I know that money can be tight, but even the smallest monetary donations count. Spare the change in your pocket for the Salvation Army’s Christmas Kettle (or become a volunteer here). Forego Starbucks for just one day and donate $5 to a charity of your choice. You can even ask for donations to your charity of choice in leu of birthday presents on Facebook. They’ve made is super easy, too– just follow the automated prompts that pop up before your birthday, and they’ll take everything from there.
If it’s the time commitment or medium that’s stopping you, you don’t even have to write a check or get out your credit card to donate now-a-days. Texting suffices. Just one example is that you can text REDCROSS to 90999 to donate $10 to American Red Cross Disaster Relief, which helps those affected by natural disasters. These types of donations are charged to your phone bill, and more and more charities are jumping on this SMS bandwagon. Not only will it feel like money well spent, but your donations will be tax deductible, as well.
It’s just a fact– life gets busy, especially for those of us who rightfully prioritize family above all else. So, if you’re looking for easy ways to make a difference and spend time with family simultaneously, check out volunteermatch.org, or givewell.org. They’ll help you find fun and collaborative ways to get you and your family (or friends or coworkers) actively involved in community efforts.
Also, if committing to set blocks of time isn’t possible for you, offer to make a virtual difference. All charities have tasks that can be done virtually and/or remotely, from designing flyers to website maintenance. Reach out and see how you can help on your own time!
6. Adopt or Foster a Pet
It’s not hard to notice the overpopulation problem of homeless pets both nationally and internationally. There are millions of dogs and cats (somewhere around 70 million) who are waiting for their forever homes, and it’s heartbreaking. So, if you love animals, consider adopting or fostering a new kitten or puppy. Not only is it a way to help improve the lives of homeless pets, it’s a way to free up space in local shelters and rescues for more animals in need. Learn more about becoming a kick-butt foster pet parent here!
7. Get Moving
If you love to bike or run, Charity Miles is one of the easiest (and most fun) ways to make a difference every day! Become a sponsored athlete by downloading the free mobile app, choosing a charity, and pressing start. As you exercise, the app will track your distance, and for every mile you move, you’ll earn money for your charity from their corporate sponsorship pool. You can even take it a step further and get sponsored by your family and friends to really make an impact– or you can get your whole family or company involved in their team program, too!
If you’re thinking this sounds too good to be true, it’s not. I use this app, and it’s the real deal. Charity Miles just has some really amazing sponsors who repurpose portions of their advertising budgets to pay participating charities. That said, you will have to suffer through some premium adds in the process, but I promise it’ll be well worth it when you’re able to cut a check to your charity of choice!
Google Goodsearch It
It’s hard to believe, but you can actually give back by simply using the internet. Powered by Yahoo, Goodsearch donates 50% of revenue from their site’s advertisers, which ends up being about a penny per search, to the charity, school, or community group of your choice. You can also shop through Goodshop to find the best deals at thousands of stores online. Not only will you save money and earn cash back with every purchase, Goodshop will donate to your favorite charity every time you shop! Plus, earnings build up in your account and are sent out via PayPal. So, if you’re feeling generous, you can donate your personal earnings to charity, as well!
9. Gram Your Food
If you’re an active Instagram user who likes to take photos of your food, FoodShareFilter is one of the coolest ways to give back. Created by the El Salvadorian charity Manos Unidas, this program enables you to share your food– for real. Simply download the app, take a picture of your food (like you were already going to do anyways), and add the #FoodShareFilter hashtag. You’re donating, spreading the word about preventing hunger, and indulging in delicious food simultaneously. Triple win!
10. Host a Baking Party
Baking parties are the bomb.com when you want to get your girlfriends together without spending money on wine or shopping. Commit to each baking an extra batch of cookies and drop them by your nearest homeless shelter or VA facility. For seasonal parties and/or no-bakers, consider making extra heart-shaped rice krispie treats for Valentine’s Day or bite-sized pumpkin pie truffles around Thanksgiving. You’ll have a blast, and you’ll help spread holiday cheer in the process.
Side Note: Baking parties are one of my all-time favorite ways to make a difference. I’ve hosted and attended several. That said, I highly recommend calling the facility beforehand for information about food donation restrictions and packaging requirements. Your donations are always appreciated; however, health and sanitation guidelines trump good intentions more often than not.
Have a pretty voice? Share your gift and change the world simultaneously! Organizations like Sing for Hope help connect artists to communities in need nationally and globally. You can also join a volunteer group, choir, or simply offer to sing for a child or patient in your local hospital. Share your talent to inspire, uplift, and foster positive change for those in need through song.
12. Donate Blood
Did you know that giving blood can help save up to three lives? Or that our country’s blood supply could be facing a dire shortage? If not, now’s the time to give back and saves lives simultaneously. Whether you do it for someone in particular– or you do it for the free cookies and juice, there’s a perpetual urgent need for donors. So, if you meet the age and health requirements– and you aren’t scared to death of needles, the American Red Cross and other reputable blood banks need you. Learn more about what to expect at your first donation here!
13. Organize Your Own Fundraiser
It’s likely that you’ll throw (or at least attend) multiple gatherings throughout the year. Even if it’s just immediate family or one or two girlfriends, make an effort to select a cause and collaboratively contribute to it. A few years back, I asked guests to donate to my Virtual Book Drive through First Book in lieu of bringing anything to my annual holiday party. Everyone really enjoyed the intiative– and, of course, they still offered to bring dishes and help out, as well.
Toys for Tots is another great option for larger parties. Host a Toys for Tots event at your home, office, or other venue and collect toys for children in need. Another great program is Angel Tree, where you can sponsor children and families with parents in prison.
14. Get a Hair Cut
Looking for a new hair do? Through Locks of Love, you can help their amazing non-profit provide hairpieces to financially disadvantaged children in the US and Canada who are suffering from long-term medical hair loss from a variety of diagnoses. They use your donated hair to create the highest quality hair prosthetics, which helps restore their self-esteem and confidence, enabling them to face the world and their peers.
To help support Locks of Love, you can make a hair donation here or a financial contribution here. 10 inches is the minimum length needed for a hairpiece, so if you’ve always wanted to rock a short bob, now’s the time!
15. Donate Decorations
Most people think of food and clothing when it comes to charitable contributions, but throwing a wrench in the traditional donation bucket is never a bad thing. To help bring some color and joy to worthy causes in your area, consider donating party supplies and seasonal decorations instead. If you’re particularly crafty, you can also make your own tassel garlands, pretty paper flowers, and confetti and donate those to charity, as well. For a full list of fun DIY decorating ideas you can do at home with your kids or your girlfriends, click here.
16. Write Letters to Heroes
You know who’d love to hear from you? Deployed troops, new recruits, veterans, wounded heroes, first responders, and caregivers. Thank them for their commitment and bravery by sending a card or care package through Operation Gratitude. Letters are accepted year-round, and writing/painting/drawing them can be a fun activity for schools, families, and any individuals looking to spread kindness.
Operation Gratitude also loves collecting holiday cards, although they need to be received 2-3 months prior to Christmas in order to arrive on time. It seems excessive, but they need time to screen, sort, collate, and ship their Care Packages.
17. Get Rid of Old Electronics
October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. The statistics are scary, but one in four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime. Further, a lack of alternative housing often leads women to return to unhealthy relationships. So… if you’ve got any old phones, laptops, or gaming systems lying around, the NCADV (National Coalition Against Domestic Violence) will gladly take them off your hands. Through a partnership with Cellular Recycler, they receive a portion of funds from the sale of refurbished electronics. These funds go directly towards projects and programs that support victims and survivors of domestic abuse. Learn more about their Donate-A-Phone program here.
Also, if this cause tugs at your heartstrings like it does on mine, consider organizing a collection drive! Click here to order your free collection boxes, posters, and resources.
18. Perform Random Acts of Kindness
Whether you buy the person behind you coffee or compliment a total stranger, kindness is contagious. You never know what someone is going through– and you just may be the best part of their day. So, smile at someone. Offer to buy a homeless person a meal. Compliment a young driver on their impressive parallel park job. Random acts of kindness, no matter how big or small, rarely go unnoticed.
Also, this many sound trivial compared to some of the other ways to make a difference on this list, but leaving kind comments on blogs and social media goes further than you think. Instead of just liking a video or article that brought you joy, take a moment to leave a genuine comment for the person who created it. With all the negativity and trolling that goes on online, you have no idea much good it can do. Plus, you may just inspire other readers and viewers to do the same!
19. Organize a Community Cleanup
Not so fun fact– Americans produce 254 million tons of waste every year. It may sound far-fetched, but I’m from Florida and can confirm that the amount of trash that’s left on our beautiful beaches alone is egregious. And maddening. And heartbreaking. Organizing a community cleanup to help pick up bottles, wrappers, and other trash in specific areas is a small action that makes an enormous impact. Not only will you be doing good, you’ll be making your neighborhood/town/city a better place to live for the entire community, including its fauna and flora.
Also, if you make a regular thing of it, see if you can get supplies donated! Contact local hardware stores and see if they can spare trash bags, gloves, rakes, etc. For more tips on how to organize a successful community cleanup, click here!
21. Give Gifts that Give Back
You have to buy gifts anyways, so why not buy gifts that benefit an awesome charity? Whether they’re animal lovers or education advocates, hundreds of awesome companies give a percentage of proceeds from sales (sometimes 100%) to related charitable causes. If you’re not sure which companies do or give what, check out some of my favorite gifts that give back here— or, if your recipient is a devout animal lover, check out my favorite gifts that give back to animals here.
It’s also worth noting that another easy way to make a difference is by giving Tis Best gift cards, which is #26 on this list. Keep reading for more on those!
21. Shop Local
Invest in your community. Not only does shopping local help create a self-sustaining local economy, it also protects the environment by reducing the impact of gas emissions and pollution from transportation. Plus, you’re supporting the little guys who actually need your business instead of buying everything from Amazon or Walmart.
22. Clean Out Your Pantry
Your pantry can always use a seasonal refresh… and food banks can always use donations. Now’s as good a time as ever to get rid of all those canned goods and non-perishable items you’re hoarding. You can also take it a step further and organize your own food drive. All you need to do is label a box, ask your community for donations, and drop the approved items at a shelter or food bank in need. Be sure you review and list acceptable food items, though, since most homeless shelters abide by specific food donation guidelines.
Also, if you have leftover food from an event or dinner party, don’t let it go to waste. Donate it to a food rescue program instead! If you’re not familiar with the term, food rescue programs accept perishable and prepared food and distribute it to organizations in need, like soup kitchens, youth or senior centers, shelters, and pantries.
23. Open Your Home
If you’ve got the space, why not open your home to a homeless or displaced family in need? Programs like AirBNB Open Homes makes it easy to offer your extra space for free to people in need of temporary housing. Now, this goes without saying, but opening your home to strangers has implied safety concerns. If you’re not comfortable going through a national program, consider opening your home to members of your church congregation or missionaries instead. My mom did this one year, and we had 3 transitioning individuals join us for Thanksgiving and Christmas. They were kind, gracious, and wonderful contributors to our holiday cheer– and they truly made the season memorable.
Also, if you’re not at all comfortable with having strangers in your home, you can still support hosts and programs that are. Organizations like Families in Transition and Beyond Housing provide shelter, as well as clothing, hygiene products, food, school supplies, medical needs, and other basic needs, to people who are experiencing homelessness and are unable to find lodging in local shelters. Do a quick Google search or ask your local homeless shelter to find housing programs in your area and see how you can help!
24. Support the Pajama Program
Who doesn’t love a good book or pair of snuggly pajamas? You can share the simplest of joys with thousands of underprivileged children living in orphanages, shelters, and foster homes by donating books and pajamas to The Pajama Program. Many of the pajama recipients have been abandoned, abused, and/or neglected, and they’ve never enjoyed the comfort of having a parent tuck them in at bedtime.
One of the things I love most about this program is that they use every resource to distribute your donations in the communities from which they were received. So, you’re directly impacting needy children in your city or town, which is really special. Learn more here!
25. Share Your Soles
If you’re looking for a more unique alternative to Good Will or The Salvation Army, try donating your gently-used shoes to Soles 4 Souls. They’re a global non-profit organization dedicated to fighting the devastating impact and perpetuation of poverty. They collect new and used shoes and clothing from individuals, schools, religious organizations, civic organizations, and corporate donors and distribute them directly to people in need.
If this sounds up your alley, you can also organize a shoe drive here or give a monetary gift here. One dollar equals one pair of shoes, so forgo the Starbucks one day, and you’ll have sponsored 5 pairs of shoes. Pretty neat.
26. Encourage Giving
Imagine this: you buy a gift card, and your recipient gets to decide which charity the money goes to. Interesting concept, isn’t it? You’re encouraging giving through… giving. Tis Best enables recipients to support causes they are passionate about and works just like a conventional gift card. They have 300+ charity partners who can receive the funds (browse them by category here), and you can personalize any Tis Best card with your own message, image, or company logo.
If you can think of any other ways to make a difference right now, please let me know. I’d love to add them to this list. Thanks so much for reading, y’all, and happy do-gooding!