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How to Make a Difference in Your Community when Money Is Tight

There are countless ways to make a positive difference in the world or in your community. Monetary donations go a long way for charities and nonprofit organizations, but giving money certainly isn’t the only way to help. With wallets thinning out over the last several years, more people are looking for other ways to help causes rather than, or in addition to, simply giving money.

If you’re working on a tight budget, consider volunteering, working for a nonprofit or donating goods. Such acts of goodwill are essential for the survival of countless charities and nonprofit organizations.

Donate Time or Labor

Giving in America

The Charities Aid Foundation (CAF), a charity dedicated to helping other charities, began tracking world giving statistics in 2010.

In the following year’s World Giving Index report, the CAF found that more Americans were doing altruistic deeds compared to 2010.

  • In 2011, 65 percent of Americans polled said they had donated money within the last month, up from 60 percent in 2010.
  • Volunteering also increased, from 39 percent to 43 percent.
  • The biggest change was the number of people who reported recently helping a stranger: 73 percent, up from 65 percent.

If you have time to spare, consider spending your weekends volunteering. You can find volunteer opportunities that range from just a few hours of your time to a regular, long-term commitment. Volunteering can mean any range of activities, from collecting signatures on a petition to helping construct a home for Habitat for Humanity.

Whatever your skill set may be, there’s a good chance you can use your strengths during volunteer opportunities and bring unique services to your volunteer experience. Find opportunities near you using resources like

If you’re looking for a unique yet short-term experience, think about using time off work to do good in the world. So-called volunteer vacations have gained popularity in the last decade, especially in the wake of natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina. Sometimes college students will use their spring break to travel domestically or abroad to help others. Because this type of volunteer opportunity typically requires travel, it may not be suited for individuals struggling with debt. However, it is possible to take a volunteer vacation while sticking to a budget.

Other Nonmonetary Donations

Making a donation doesn’t have to mean parting with money. You can make nonmonetary donations that directly help individuals in your area. To do this, you can use your own skills or the materials you have on hand.

Here are some ways to donate:
  • If you like clipping coupons and are a savvy grocery shopper, participate in a food drive. You’ll spend a minimal amount of money and make a big difference to families in need.
  • If you have kids with unused school supplies, donate any new materials to schools that need them.
  • If you are able to, participate in a blood drive. The process of donating blood is fast and simple, and it gives you the opportunity to help save lives. Depending on where you donate, you may even be eligible for small gifts such as gift cards or movie tickets in exchange for donating.

Raise Money

You can raise money for a cause even when you can’t afford to donate money. Participate in an event that supports your cause, and find friends, relatives and co-workers willing to sponsor you. For example, Relay for Life participants have the opportunity to raise money for the American Cancer Society’s cancer research programs.

Others may be more comfortable holding their own fundraisers. Consider setting up a garage sale or bake sale and donating all proceeds to the charity of your choice.

Nonprofit Work

Those who are truly dedicated to a cause should consider working for a nonprofit. This generally takes a greater level of commitment than simply volunteering. However, it has the benefit that you will receive a paycheck for doing what you love.

As with volunteering, the type and amount of work you do is largely up to you. You may be able to find a job in your field of expertise that happens to be at a nonprofit. And depending on what suits you and the organization best, you may be able to work part time or full time, supplementing or fully replacing your current occupation.

Full-time nonprofit work is not an ideal choice for everyone. It typically pays less than other work, so individuals with children or those with underlying debt problems may need higher salaries to get by.

No matter what level of commitment you’re comfortable with, you’ll feel better about yourself knowing you’re making a positive difference in the world around you. Whether you volunteer a few times a year or make a regular commitment each week, you can help improve the global community or your local community without making monetary promises.

Katherine Pilnick is a writer for She educates readers about their various personal finance options. She is a graduate of New York University.

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