6 Easy Ways to Give Back in 2014

"Giving back" is a pretty broad term, and yet it's something many people vow to do as the new year dawns. If you're inspired to give back in 2014, your first step is considering what, exactly, you have to give. Trying to force yourself into charitable activities you find disagreeable — group outings if you're an introvert, cleaning up food if you've got a weak stomach — isn't likely to produce a lasting habit, no matter how noble it may seem. So consider not just where you could "do good" but where you, personally, can do the most good.

There are lots of different ways to give, depending on what you've got. If you're flush with time but not money, volunteer in the community. Or see if you've got supplies a local organization could use. If you're swamped with work, put a little of that extra cash you're making toward a good cause. If you're skilled in something particular, put that talent to use for a non-profit you care about. To trigger your charitable inclinations and imagination, here are some more ideas for ways to give back in 2014.

1. Check out the obvious channels

Almost every community has a local animal shelter, community kitchen, food bank, homeless shelter, or senior center that could use your help in some way.

2. Get fit for a cause

Raise funds for a good cause and do yourself some good, too, by participating in a charity bike or run. Some of the big ones are organized by the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, the American Diabetes Association, and the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Websites such as Active.com and apps like Charity Miles let you search for charity walks, runs, and rides around the country based on dates, distances, and registration requirements.

3. Explore artsy volunteering options

Even if you're not the on-stage type, community theaters are always in need of ushers, set painters, and production crews. Art museums and community or county arts centers often have volunteer programs. And local public radio stations can always use people to man phone lines during membership drives. Most of these arts entities will list information about volunteering options on their website.

4. Find volunteering matches online

There are a lot of websites and apps dedicated to helping people find the right way to donate time and skills. Check out Volunteer Match, All for Good, Opp Guide (for high-school students), Idealist, United Way, and DoSomething.org.

5. Micro-give

With "micro-philanthropy" apps like Instead and micro-lending organizations like Kiva and Microplace, you can give a few dollars at a time.

6. Donate used clothes and books

You can always give old clothes to a local thrift shop (Goodwill, Salvation Army), but some organizations collect specific types of clothes (such as Dress for Success, which collects business clothes for low-income women). If you have books to donate, some local libraries will take them, or visit Better World Books, Reading Tree (which collects books for underfunded libraries and schools in the U.S. and abroad), Books for Soldiers, Books for Africa, or Got Books? (which helps you organize a book drive for an organization of your choice).