Life

How to Give Back Year-Round

November 6, 2017

Here are some ways you can give back year-round. There are opportunities to give back everywhere, all the time, and in multiple ways.

Photo used with permission from Johnson’s Backyard Garden. Photo taken by Scott David Gordon Photography.

When I was a kid, our church brought my family Christmas gifts every year. While my siblings and I were born in Dallas, my parents are immigrants and we joined a church in our neighborhood as a way to learn and improve our English. We got on a list somehow and I have sweet memories of this couple from our church delivering wrapped presents – one for each of us kids plus a Disney movie for the family. The gifts were the fanciest and coolest I got as a kid and we were always excited to watch a new Disney movie as a family.

Growing up, volunteer work was a natural part of church and service organizations at school. I went on week-long mission trips, was a camp counselor, feed the homeless, organized food drives, and more. Whether it was the desire to pay it forward or the influences around me, giving back was an integral part of my childhood. Looking back, I’m touched that a community would provide the funds and time to make sure we had a memorable Christmas. (This is also why I never thought Santa was real because “Santa” was the sweet couple from church. HA!) When I come back to my values and the purpose of living, the need to help others always seems to be one of the most important things.

Compassion is providing for someone because the person in need could have been you if the cards were dealt differently. When you have the privilege of having more than enough, why not give a hand to someone who doesn’t? There is always need, and there are opportunities to give back everywhere, all the time, and in multiple ways. I hope this post will give you some ideas to make a commitment to improve your community and contribute to the betterment of the world.

What Kinds of Non-Profit Organizations?

It starts with passion, even a little bit. Who do you want to help and what causes do you care about? People come to support a non-profit or cause in multiple ways.

  • Maybe you know someone who needed the help of a non-profit or you experienced the need first-hand and wanted to find a way to help. For me, scuba diving opened up the underwater world for me and made me aware of the great need to conserve our oceans. Others I know had a family member who fought cancer and continue to fight for research and a cure.
  • Maybe you experienced something in your life and you want to give others a chance at the experience. Reading and access to books were a constant for me growing up so non-profits providing books are near and dear to my heart.
  • Maybe you’ve always had a favorite hobby or skill and you have the opportunity to share it to help someone.

Here are some categories of non-profits and examples of organizations.

Animal care and services

  • Helping animals get adopted from shelters
  • Rescuing and adopting a particular breed of dog
  • Saving the bees
  • Providing animals to help humans physically or emotionally

Environment

  • Conserving our earth, specifically forests, national parks, oceans, and animals

Education

  • Building schools
  • Supporting teachers
  • Providing uniforms or school supplies for kids in need
  • Providing educational opportunities for low-income kids
  • Fostering special interests like astronomy, reading, writing, or technology
  • Supporting kids to get them into and through college

Health Care

  • Providing access to healthcare and health education
  • Supporting veteran health and rehabilitation
  • Helping low-income kids dream bigger by giving them a support system and opportunities: reading, mentors
  • Supporting those affected by a particular disease

Basic Needs

  • Helping refugees and immigrants re-build their lives
  • Helping low-income people with basic needs such as food, clothes, and toiletries
  • Helping abused women re-build their lives
  • Supporting efforts to provide clean water for all

Arts & Culture

  • Supporting theaters, art programs, musical groups
  • Supporting education for the arts and creative endeavors
  • Supporting public art

Sports and Recreation

  • Introducing kids to a particular sport or activity to help the other areas of their life
  • Providing sports opportunities for low-income kids and families

Community

  • Supporting a shared interest for a particular need
  • Ending sex slavery
  • Fighting for women’s rights
  • Creating and providing programs for self-development

These are a few examples. If there’s a need and a passion, there is an organization helping. There are so many non-profits working to make the world a better place and improve the lives of those around them. Which will you support?

Six Opportunities to Give Back

How can you give? It can be as quick and easy as donating money to a cause online to a years-long commitment of in-person interaction every month. I think a combination of monetary donations and volunteering makes it more meaningful for a donor. When you’re working in-person or raising money, you have hands-on experience connecting deeper with a cause that means a lot to you.

1. Hands-on Volunteer
If you want to donate a few hours of your time, the hours add up to a whole lot of change. All of it makes an impact!

  • Skills/Office Work: Some non-profits are so small they don’t have a staff member for tasks like marketing or need extra hands for data entry or answering phones. If you want hands-on work that is indirectly helping the people the organization serves, this is a great option.
  • Advocacy Work: I haven’t done this myself, but sometimes non-profits need hands and voices to appeal to government. This could mean contacting and meeting with politicians, showing up at city hall, and working at events.
  • Working with Beneficiaries: This volunteer work can be the toughest yet clearest way to see how your work helps others. It may involve paperwork and background checks before you start, but work such as mentoring low-income high school students, helping an immigrant family settle into their new home, and talking to folks at the nursing home is worth the time if you want to invest time into the cause long-term. I recommend being a part of Big Brothers Big Sisters!
  • Manual Labor: This includes volunteer work that doesn’t involve a particular skill. From painting a house or pulling weeds at a farm to sorting items at a food bank, working with your hands can be hard work but also a big help! Other examples could be handing out water to runners during a race, running the registration table at an event, or being a part of a park clean-up crew.

2. Monetary Donations
Sometimes, money is the easiest and fastest way to help someone. As we’ve seen with the natural disasters recently, providing money to local organizations and allowing them to buy what is immediately needed is more helpful than donating random items. Organizations can also get discounts when they buy in bulk.

When you’re thinking about how much to donate, I recommend a percentage of your income as an easy way to calculate it.

  • Set aside a certain amount to donate every year. This is for donations you want to make for annual fundraisers or donations you don’t know about ahead of time. Dip into this fund when friends host fundraisers or when disasters hit. If you see someone in need, like a kid in front of you in line who didn’t have enough money for his lunch, you can help them in the moment without worrying about your budget. If there is anything left at the end of the year, donate it to your favorite charity.
  • Set up a monthly contribution. Many organizations provide a way to charge your credit card monthly for a set amount you decide. This way it’s not hitting your account all at once. A little goes a long way!
  • Sponsor a child or a family. There are notable organizations that allow you to give a child the chance at an education or the ability to provide “simple” needs. This usually means a monthly or annual donation. Check out Plan International or GlobalGiving.
  • Fund small businesses. How do you lift up an entire community? Fund small businesses, especially those owned by women. There are great societal and cultural shifts when women succeed. It might not be positive at first, especially in patriarchal communities, but success breeds respect. Organizations like Kiva allow you to loan funds to small businesses. On the website, you can read about their business, where they are, and how much they need.

3. Donate Unused Items
That pair of like new jeans that don’t fit you anymore, appliances you don’t need, or even an old car can find a place at a nonprofit. Places like Goodwill and Salvation Army are probably the closest locations to you to donate unused items.

4. Donate new items.
Nonprofits ask for new items year-round. There are organizations that collect bras and feminine products for the homeless, school supplies for low-income kids, and toys and canned food for families during the holidays.

5. Organize a fundraiser or item drive.
Set up an online monetary fundraiser for your birthday or as motivation for a race you’re running. Another idea is organizing a donation drive. Throw a party and ask all guests to bring an item or two for the drive. For example, hosting Friendsgiving or a holiday party? Ask friends to bring two canned goods or a new toy. Get your work office involved!

6. Buy for a cause.
There are many organizations called “one-for-one” organizations that give back when you make a purchase. One of the firsts was TOMS, which gives a pair of shoes to a child in need when you buy a pair. Other organizations might occasionally or temporarily give a percentage of their purchases to charity. The Shop Forward donates proceeds to charity. I posted about purchases that give back in this previous post.

How do you find organizations to support? Ask your friends, check your local newspaper, or use the Internet! If you’re in Austin, we have a handy website with a non-profit database.

Have any tips you would add? Where do you enjoy giving back? Comment below!

P.S. Here’s a post of culinary volunteer opportunities in Austin.

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  • I have a friend who works in non-profit and it drives her crazy how people always come out of the woodwork and want to volunteer on Thanksgiving and Christmas. It’s great that people want to help and give, but people need help the rest of the year too, and I think these tips go a long way at providing some solid ways to give throughout the year.

    • Absolutely! It’s a lot easier when people make it a priority financially and with their time. There’s a lot of need and opportunity. I can only imagine the lives that would be impacted for the better if we make giving back a year-round habit.