Stephen King once said, “People think that I must be a very strange person. This is not correct. I have the heart of a small boy. It is in a glass jar on my desk.”
I sympathize. Despite my heavy-metal-playing-ways and my love of hunting and tattoos, I really am a softie inside. I’d rather run for the hills than seek and destroy (anyone catch that? Eh?).
I also want to give back and make the world a wee bit better than I left it, but there’s one problem: I’m still just one step ahead of being broke AF. I haven’t even fully-filled my emergency fund yet.
Traditional advice for people in my situation is to volunteer your time. I tried that once. Like any good unemployed wildlife biologist, I went out to a raptor rehabilitation facility to volunteer my time (minus a $40 volunteer fee). It was cool, but they wanted a minimum 8-10 hour commitment per week, which seriously ate into my freelance writing time. (Not to mention all the weird homeopathic woo treatments they kept trying to give to the sick birds.)
When you’re broke, time really does equal money. Time spent volunteering means less time you can work on side hustling and earning more money so that you’re not broke AF.
So, what’s a broke, indebted person to do? How do you not become an inconsiderate asshole if you have no—or very little—time or money to give?
How do you give to charity if you yourself are a charity case?
- 1 You CAN Give Back Even If You’re Broke
- 1.1 Donate Your Stuff
- 1.2 Help Scientists
- 1.3 Browse For A Cause
- 1.4 Use Your Smartphone
You CAN Give Back Even If You’re Broke
Worry no longer, my friends! I have compiled a list of ways you can give back without giving away your most limited resources that will help you move ahead financially. Each method will adhere to one or more of these criteria:
1. Any “money” earned can only be donated to charity. Yep, you can donate credit card rewards, and money earned through apps and websites all day, but let’s be honest: if you are in debt or lacking sufficient savings, you probably need that money for yourself right now. That’s not being an assholio. Them’s true words.
2. It has to take little or no time—or be done while you’re doing something else. We ain’t got all day. Chop-chop.
3. It has to involve no financial output on your part. I ain’t made of money (yet)!
Donate Your Stuff
You have stuff. I have stuff. Sometimes we have more stuff than we need, or would miss if it were gone. Here is how you can get rid of some of your stuff without spending a lot of time or money.
Donate Your Money
Wait. You must think I’ve gone off the deep end like a lemming with a bad running habit. We don’t have a lot of money to give, remember?
Nope—I’m not crazy (Zach begs to differ). You can actually get free money to give, thanks to the Rockstar Community Fund. Sign up and they’ll send you one of their $20 Giving Cards to use in your local community to make it just a bit better.
Donate Your Hair
I’ve got really long hair. Not because I’m growing it out for head-banging (that shit makes me dizzy, although it looks pretty awesome), but mostly because I’m lazy.
Donate Your Blood
I’m a huge needle-weenie (unless it tattoo needles). But if I wasn’t, I would totally donate blood. The appointment will take a little over an hour, and you can donate blood once every eight weeks.
Donate Your Organs
What are you gonna do with your organs after you die? A whole lot of nothing. That’s what I thought.
Instead, put them to good use. You can elect to be an organ donor when you’re at the DMV, or by signing up online.
You can still donate organs even when you’re alive if the opportunity arises. This violates Rule #2 above because it takes some time, but let’s not be assholes for realsies. One easy way is to sign up for the Bone Marrow Donor Registry at a donor drive (I got a free bone-shaped cookie when I did it – #winning) or online. That part takes about ten minutes, and your chances of actually ever donating bone marrow is about 0.2%.
Donate Unused Household Items And Food
I like me a good walk-through of my apartment to see what I can get rid of every so often. A lot of things I can sell, but I have a rule: if I can’t get at least $20 for it, I’ll just donate it. Bonus points: snag a donation receipt if you itemize the deductions on your taxes.
The same thing goes with my pantry. Every time there’s a food drive going on I’ll go through my pantry to see what I can get rid of. If it’s something I’m not likely to use within the next couple of months, out it goes like a bad habit.
Donate Crocheted And Knitted Items
Knitting a sweet frilly scarf while listening to the soothing sounds of Tool is one of my favorite pastimes. (Wait—is that just me, guys?) Even the best of us side hustlers have some down time when we’re just watching TV, riding in cars or airplanes, or pondering the lyrics of rap songs about saving money.
That’s prime time to get your yarn freak on. Scope out some free patterns on Ravelry, snag some of that super-cheap-chunky yarn at the craft store, and knit like a mad fiend gone wild.
Related: Learn To Knit Kit (affiliate link)
Then, donate your wares to a charity. Blankets, socks, mittens, scarves, and hats are all appreciated by charities like Project Linus, Warm Up America, Knitted Knockers (yes…you too can knit prosthetic boobs) and others. You can even just donate your items to your local homeless shelter or hospital.
Donate Extra Garden Produce
Does your zucchini plant spit out fruits faster than a green speedwagon? Mine doesn’t. My “one-pounder” tomato plant has so far been the proud bearer of one single cherry tomato.
But, if you don’t suck at gardening like me and have a lot of extra produce that you can’t eat, you can donate it to your local food bank. Some communities even have formal programs for this, like the Plant It Forward program in Fort Collins. I even signed up for a second plot in my community garden to donate the produce to this program, since I was going to be at the garden anyways. That plot also sucks as much as my own (sorry dudes. I tried.).
Donate Box Tops For Education
Did anyone else used to obsessively collect and horde these like out-of-control crack addicts as kids? No? That’s just me? Oh well.
But seriously, if you come across these on the stuff you buy, it’s nice to cut them out. Give them to your kid to bring to school. If you don’t have kids like us, it is not acceptable to attach them to your dog’s collar and send them into the school building. Just FYI.
Science costs a lot of money. So much so, in fact, that certain recent government administrations have decided we don’t need some science programs or personnel (*cough cough*).
Scientists are increasingly turning towards regular people to help them out. You can be their hero!
Help Out With A Citizen Science Project
Citizen Science relies on help from just about anyone to collect dataz. Some of these projects do take up a lot of time and energy, but not all of them. I volunteered for a citizen science project measuring blueberries in northern Alaska while I was already out and about doing my own research (fun fact: we named our blueberry plant Blueberry Manilow).
You can search through a huge catalog of Citizen Science projects here.
Related Post: Survey Results: The State of The Biologist
Volunteer Your Computer’s Idle Time
There’s a helluva a lot of big dataz today, and not enough computers to analyze it. To solve that problem, you can volunteer your computer’s resources during idle time to analyze climate change data, decoding RNA, and search for aliens, among other things.
Browse For A Cause
I’m guessing that if you’re reading this, you probably use the Google machine. There are a couple of good ways that you can give back to charity just by using your normal internet habits:
Tab For A Cause
My current job consists of doing a lot of internet research (as opposed to Research with a capital R, where I was doing experiments and publishing dataz). I probably open more tabs each day than I take steps.
Tab For A Cause is a great program that donates between 0.1 and 0.33 cents per tab opening to a charity. They even gamify the experience with different levels and a points system, and let you customize your tab.
Sixty-four percent of U.S. households have Amazon Prime. That’s a shit ton of people! If you buy stuff from Amazon, instead of just heading to the website and hitting the buy button, go to Amazon Smiles first. You’ll be prompted to select a charity, and Amazon will donate 0.5% of the revenue your purchase to your charity.
How do you know if your item is eligible? Look for the “Eligible for Amazon Smile donation” right above the magical “Add to Cart” button.
This cool game will take a bit of your time, which is why I recommend only using it in your in-between-tasks times.
The way it works is this: go to the Free Rice website and answer one simple question at a time. They’ll get slowly harder (that’s what she said), and for each question you answer correctly, the revenue from the banner ads on the website will fund enough to buy 10 grains of rice for the UN World Food Program. You can even see your rice bowl filling up as you continue to answer questions!
While it’s not an app, you can still access the webpage on mobile if you’re doing something like sitting in a waiting room or riding the bus. It is a bit clunky, but it’s possible.
Use Your Smartphone
Your smartphone is the gateway to many wonderful things, like moneymaking apps and obsessive avoidance of incoming phone calls that you don’t recognize.
Here are some great apps you can use to earn a few shekels to give to charity:
Wouldn’t it be great if someone would give you money to donate to a charity? That’s the idea behind Tinbox. They’ll let you choose a charity to donate to (up to $1 per day), and a corporate sponsor will foot the bill on your behalf.
You do get out and exercise, right? If not, lemme introduce you to one of my secret tools that motivates me to work out more: Charity Miles. And if you already do work out, then download this app pronto and start your Ultramarathon training to save the world.
You can choose from a range of charities in this app. I always run for She’s The First, because education. For each mile you run, your charity gets 25 cents. For each mile you bike, your charity gets 10 cents. Booyah.
Donate A Photo
The basic idea behind Donate A Photo is you take a picture, share it through the app, and earn $1 towards your selected charity, up to once per day.
Johnson & Johnson’s really getting their charity game on. They’re the sponsor of this app, as well as many workouts with the Charity Miles app. Imagine if BP or Philip Morris did the same thing…HA.
Walk For A Dog
Doggers are the bomb-diggity. You can help them out without donating a penny of your own money through the Walk For A Dog app.
This app works similarly to the Charity Miles app (why not run both at the same time?). You pick a dog rescue (there are tons), add in your dog (you could probably add a kitty or a gerbil…I ain’t judging), and every time you start a walk you fire this app up and let it record how far you’ve gone. Donations are distributed to shelters based on how many people are walking, and how frequently (you need to walk at least once a week for anything to count).
My charity is The August Fund that helps rehome retired sled dogs. Because if there’s anything cooler than regular doggers, it’s grizzled old sled doggers. I may not be able to do dogsled racing anymore (my apartment would not approve), but I can still help them out while on my daily walk with my most-definitely-not-a-sled-dog dog, Juno!
What are your favorite ways to give back without spending a shit ton of time, money, and sanity? Leave a comment below!