How to Help the World Without Spending Money

By Susan Shain
July 1, 2020

So much is happening in the world today — it can be hard to know how best to help. 

And we know that struggle can feel even harder when you don’t have gobs of disposable income to write checks left and right. But don’t worry: Even if your bank account is missing some zeros, you can still support the issues that matter to you.

Here are seven ways to make the world a better place without spending a dime.

1. Educate yourself 📚

The first step in any wannabe ally’s journey should be education. After all, you can’t really help a cause without understanding what it’s about, right? So study up on the history and modern-day challenges of the issues you care about. 

Make sure the articles you’re reading (and sharing!) are from reliable sources, such as major news outlets or organizations — and make sure they include perspectives from individuals who’ve been personally affected by the issues. 

To further expand your knowledge, you can turn to library books, podcasts, documentaries, and webinars. Luckily, there’s plenty of free content available online these days, so it’s easy to do a deep-dive into the topics you care about. 

2. Volunteer 🤗

When you can’t give money, give time instead. At many organizations, you don’t need special skills to volunteer, as long as you have a willing attitude and a few hours each week or month. 

To find opportunities near you, search on VolunteerMatch or check the websites of organizations you’d like to support. You can also look for mutual aid networks in your area; rather than being affiliated with a specific charity, these allow you to help your neighbors with errands like grocery shopping or yard work. 

Don’t see the volunteer gig you were dreaming of? Reach out to your chosen organization and offer yourself as tribute. If you have a specific skill, such as writing, graphic design, web development, or cooking, make sure to mention it — some organizations may be willing to give you a special assignment. And some are willing to work with volunteers virtually, too. 

3. Find your voice 🙋‍♀️

One of the best ways to amplify change is to use your voice. You can call your representatives, send letters, sign petitions, and share messages on social media. You can also attend protests, marches, and meetings in support of the cause. 

It goes without saying that you should vote, too — and not just every four years. Since local government has a huge impact on our everyday lives, consider attending city council meetings and always vote in your local elections

For more info, here are some sites that will empower you during the political process: 

  • Rock the Vote: Register to vote, find your polling place, and get reminders about upcoming elections. 
  • Vote411: Create a personalized ballot guide based on your address and preferences. 
  • Vote Smart: Easily read all candidates’ statements on the issues and find your “political soulmate.” 
  • Countable: Track and understand upcoming bills, then directly contact your representatives to share your thoughts.

4. Give what you’ve got 💚

Look around you… What do you see? 

Probably some things you don’t use or need. So search for a thrift store in your area that’s affiliated with a cause you support. My old San Diego neighborhood, for instance, had thrift stores whose proceeds benefited AIDS outreach, the homeless, and other community programs. 

Don’t have extra things laying around? Then think about what you do have. If you have a big backyard, you could use it to host meetings for local organizations. If you have credit card points, you could donate them to charity. If you have long hair, you could give it to kids who’ve lost theirs. Charities are always in need of help, so feel free to get creative. 

And even if you think you’ve got nothing to give, don’t forget that you can always lend your emotional support to someone who’s struggling. If you’re not directly affected by a situation or crisis, offer a listening ear and safe space to those who are. (For more on this, read up on the ring theory.)

5. Use technology to your advantage 📱

Let’s face it: You’re on your phone all the time. Luckily, there are ways you can wield your addiction for good. 

Bookmark the following platforms, which allow you to support charities every time you:

6. Have hard conversations 🤚

While speaking out is important, it might not sway those who need to hear it most. 

Think about what happens when a friend posts some Instagram diatribe you disagree with: You probably keep scrolling and forget about it. But when that same friend invites you to coffee to discuss her feelings, you’re more likely to hear her out. 

In other words: If you have relatives or friends with different views, don’t expect them to magically change their minds because of your social media posts (no matter how eloquent they may be). If you want a chance at changing their minds, you’ll have to sit down and have hard conversations

Whatever the issue is, you’ll probably be able to find talking points online — just do your research first. Then, when it comes time for the actual conversation, practice active listening and patience, as dishing out anger or criticism will only make the other person dig their heels in deeper.

7. Organize a fundraiser 💵

Even if you don’t have extra savings lying around, your network might. So consider organizing a fundraiser for a charity of your choice. It could be a 5K race, a softball tournament, or a poker night — use your imagination and play to your community’s interests. 

In this era of social distancing, there are plenty of ways to host virtual fundraisers, too; here are some ideas

And if your birthday’s rolling around soon, that’s a golden opportunity to raise money. You can, of course, set up a donation drive via Facebook, or you can host one independently. At my 28th birthday party, I held an in-person raffle with products from local businesses, and ended up raising more than $1,500 for schools in Nicaragua. 

If you only take one thing away from this article, it should be this: You don’t need to be rich to effect change. There are myriad ways to make a difference — you just need some courage, some creativity, and a whole lot of passion.

Susan Shain is a freelance personal finance writer. She had personal finance stories published in The New York Times, Lifehacker, and MarketWatch. Susan was previously on staff at The Penny Hoarder and Student Loan Hero, and has written content for a variety of Fortune 100 companies.

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