How To Donate On A Budget & Actually Make A Difference

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2017 has many people opening their wallets faster than you can say, "Take my money." With so many basic human rights now threatened, we're all wanting to donate to the causes the matter in any way we can. But what if you don't have much in terms of cash flow? If you're wondering how to donate on a budget and still have an impact, there's good news: There are numerous ways you can make a difference, and some of them don't even involve digging for your wallet. Obviously, money helps — but know that you don't need to be the wealthiest philanthropist to make the world a better place. As corny as it sounds, being a positive influence can be as simple as clearing some time in your schedule and wanting to make someone smile.  

If you need convincing that it isn't just the dollar sign that matters, think of the recent donations made to Planned Parenthood in Mike Pence's name. This was largely about making a statement, fighting policies, and having a voice. What do we remember about this — the money contributed? Of course, that was a huge success. But even more, we remember the message we sent. It isn't always about the money — or at least, not just the money.

Next time you think that being on a tight budget puts you at a disadvantage for donating, remember that story. If you do have a couple bucks to spare, there are measures you can take to donate wisely. But if you don't, that's OK too. Here's how to help the greater good.

1Donate To An Organization Close To Your Heart

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There are several steps you can take to determine the right charity for you. Start with the things that matter to you. For example, I would pick an organization like Planned Parenthood because reproductive rights are important to me. Then think about whether you want to donate locally, nationally, or globally.

Websites like GuideStar, Great Nonprofits, Philanthropedia, GiveWell, and the BBB Wise Giving Alliance can help point you in the right direction. Don't be afraid to really examine their progress and ask for data regarding where they are in meeting their goals. You want to make sure your money is going to the right place. Why? Because in some instances, only 30 or 40 cents for every dollar will actually go to those in need. You want something closer to 70 cents (if not more). Charity Navigator is a great tool for figuring stuff like this out.

If you want to donate regularly, take the hassle out of it by setting up automatic monthly donations. That way, you don't have to think about it. Even if it's just $5, you're making a difference in someone's life. (But make sure your payment method isn't taking a transaction fee from your donation!)

2Spread Your Donations Around

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Maybe you have more than one charity grabbing your attention, and that's great too. In fact, Boulder Giving says that you should consider the 50/30/20 rule: Donate 50 percent of your contributions to one charity (or a select few) that matters the most to you. Leave 30 percent for community gifts. (Think a church or a public school.) Use the last 20 percent for "impulse donations" — unplanned things like disaster relief or fundraising drives.

You can explore websites like Charity Navigator, which has a feature they call the Giving Basket. Among other things, it helps you manage your donations to multiple charities. (As you should on every website, be sure to read the fine print.)

3Donate Your Time

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Of course charities need money; but they also need bodies! That sounds creepy, but you know what I mean. If you can't spare any cash, give your spare time instead. Don't have time? Make time. There are countless ways to volunteer that don't require any special skills. Volunteering for the Special Olympics had me checking in athletes. Volunteering at a nursing home had me doing arts and crafts with the residents. Volunteering at the church daycare center had me getting puked on.

You don't need money. You don't need skills. All you need is compassion.

4Donate Your Skills

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If you do have some kind of specialized skill, though, don't wait for a charity to post a volunteer job opening — contact the organizations you care about directly and offer your services. These can include photography/videography, graphic design, web design, blogging, social media, and legal assistance.

5Take Charge To Spread The Word

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If you're a natural born leader, take those #bosslady skills and put 'em to good use. Rally together people in your community to combine forces and help an organization in need. For example, you can start a canned food drive or host a clothing drive. Use Kickstarter or Indiegogo and harness the power of crowdfunding. Alone, we do great things. Imagine what could happen if we all joined together.