Americans are a charitable bunch. According to the National Philanthropic Trust, 95.4 percent of U.S. households give to charity and that annual contribution averages $2,974. In total, individuals handed out a whopping $241.32 billion in 2013, which accounts for 72 percent of all charitable giving.
And we’re not showing any signs of slowing down when it comes to digging deep in our pockets. Charitable giving in 2013 was up 4.4 percent from 2011.
But not everyone can afford to donate cold hard cash. And experts caution that while charitable giving makes you feel good—and can provide a nifty tax deduction, too—until you’re financially comfortable yourself, you can’t give what you don’t have.
However, that doesn’t mean you can’t hand over a little leftover change. But before you consider writing a check or doling out cash, consider these options that give back and pay it forward without breaking the bank.
If you’ve got more credit card perks like airline miles or hotel stays banked than you’re able to use, consider giving them away. Airlines like Delta and United let you put those miles to good use via support of a number of charities including Canine Assistants and the American Red Cross. You can also often donate these types of rewards to foundations like Make-A-Wish.
Vision Aid Overseas has been doling out donated spectacles and free eye-tests to residents of developing countries for 25 years.
Sites like FundingFactory turn your e-waste like used ink cartridges into cash for your school, church or other qualifying charities. They also accept cell phones.
Guide dogs aren’t born; they’re created from unique attention, nurturing and training. And if you’re an animal lover, you can raise a puppy to become a future guide dog for Guiding Eyes for the Blind . Volunteers make the puppy part of their family, teaching it manners and social skills like staying off furniture and ignoring items that are not dog toys. They also attend classes and assessments to help measure and nurture the puppy’s progress. Equipment, food and vet costs are typically covered by the charity, depending on the individual organization. But there’s a tough catch– you eventually have to give the puppy back so that it can go to its forever home.
Clear out the cluttered corners of your closet or basement and earn some cash to donate to your favorite cause. Selling clothes, toys, household items, etc. in a garage sale, is a great way to drum up money to donate to a charity of your choice.Plus, whatever you aren’t able to sell can be donated to organizations like Goodwill or the Salvation Army. Not only will you get rid of used items taking up space, you’ll be able to give without denting your budget.
Charities like the American Red Cross rely on volunteers to donate blood and/or platelets. These donations give life to critically and chronically ill patients as well as those in serious accidents, etc.
Support your favorite causes and organizations, like the suicide prevention organization To Write Love On Her Arms, the World Wildlife Fund, Charity: Water, and more by joining SocialVibe. When you complete certain activities like posting a message about a brand on your Facebook page, sponsors will donate money to one of over 40 nonprofits.
Put a roof over someone’s head—literally—by building homes with Habitat for Humanity.
If you’re not handy with a hammer, look to resources like Jumo, VolunteerMatch, and Idealist to find your perfect charity match. You can also look for local volunteer opportunities using apps like Catalista, too.
Sparked lets you volunteer online in your spare time based on your interests and skills. You could give anything from basic graphic design to research or even copywriting. For example, if you’re a social media whiz you might brainstorm ways to connect with people to help fight cancer. Or download the Give Work iPhone app to give work to Kenyan refugees with companies who outsource online tasks, like confirming that certain images are of what they say they are, or picking out spam comments on a blog. Through the app, you can perform quality control and train the Kenyan staff.
Wheels for Wishes will drive away your old car and turn it into a donation for the Make-a-Wish foundation. If you have a car that’s ready for scrap or salvage, consider donating it to a charity that accepts everything from clunkers to chariots.
Install the Firefox plugin Browse For A Cause, which runs silently in the background while you shop online. The browser facilitates the donation of a portion of your purchases to a charity of your choice. Amazon for example, has kicked back 3 to 5 percent.
Say goodbye to Google and Bye-bye to Bing. Be philanthropic using Every Click which makes money from every search you conduct on the site. They donate the loot to charity and also have the app Give as You Live which you can download for free. This app makes money via affiliates on a lot of the purchases you make. You can choose to donate to a school or charity without spending a penny.
Raise your hand for the chance to potentially save someone’s life by signing up to donate bone marrow at Be The Match. You can join at an in-person registry drive or request a cheek swab kit be sent to your home so that you can be added to their donor registry.
Sign the back of your driver’s license or carry an organ donation card in your purse or wallet. Giving any, or all, possible organ and body parts like corneas, liver, lungs and your heart, may mean the chance to give the gift of life to someone who desperately needs it. This donation is sure to make a life-changing difference.
If you’ve got locks to spare, consider lopping some off and sporting a new, shorter hairdo in support of Locks of Love. The charity makes hairpieces for young patients coping with hair loss from any medical treatment or illness.
Organizations like the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence want to help you be kind to the environment and put cash in their pocket. They collect cell phones, MP3 players, digital cameras and video game systems that they recycle and keep out of landfills. The charity picks up the shipping and the proceeds from recycling your old gadgets help to support its call to action and awareness campaigns.
Frequent contributor of health and caregiving, personal finance, mortgage, and insurance articles, as well as celebrity interviews and Q&As to MSN, Realtor.com, Credit Sesame, Fortune, USA Today, Women’s Health, Family Circle, Essence, Lifescript, Health Monitor Network, and more. Gina’s work has been featured on the covers of numerous titles including Glamour, Live Happy, Neurology Now, and many other national and international publications.