On a Tight Budget? 6 Ways to Support Charities Without Donating Your Own Money

A hand reaches fro dry goods that have been donated.
Aileen Perilla/The Penny Hoarder

Bill and Melinda Gates are the most charitable people in America, according to Forbes.

They’ve donated $30.2 billion (37% of their net worth) in their lifetimes — $2.65 billion in 2013 alone. The Gates’ goal is to eradicate deadly diseases around the world, including malaria, polio and AIDS, and they’ve certainly committed to it.

But how can the rest of us, who don’t have a few billion dollars lying around, still do good, positive things for our communities?

Thankfully, even the most cash-strapped do-gooder can give back. If you want to contribute to local charities and nonprofit organizations but don’t have much cash to spare, try one of these alternate ways to be charitable on a budget.

1. Help People Find Jobs

While many people think of volunteering at a food bank or homeless shelter, have you ever considered volunteering in a job search center?

Many local social service agencies let volunteers work one-on-one with job seekers, helping them craft resumes and apply for jobs.

Many such facilities partner with food banks and shelters, and your local social services agency can point you in the right direction.

2. Teach Computer Skills

If you’re reading this on a computer, tablet or phone right now, you likely have more computer skills than a lot of people.

From senior citizens eager to learn how to communicate with grandkids and other relatives thousands of miles away, to economically disadvantaged job seekers or people with disabilities learning how to use adaptive software, many people could use assistance with basic technology.

Even seemingly simple things such as booting up a computer, logging on, opening up a web browser, and learning how to use email are life-changing skills for some people.

Contact your local social services agency or seniors’ center to find out where you can share your skills.

3. Donate Your Unused Clothing, Toys and More

Chances are, you have something in your home right now that you don’t use. Maybe you have clothing you don’t wear because you’ve changed your style, gained or lost weight, or moved to a different climate.

Do your kids have toys they haven’t played with in months or even years? Is your garage full of “weekend warrior” sporting gear when you spend your weekends watching HGTV?

If you have things that you wouldn’t miss and someone else might enjoy, why not consider donating them?

Clear out your closets and pass along those items to people who will use them. Head to Goodwill, the Salvation Army or your local thrift store to donate your gently used items, or look up local domestic violence shelters or kids’ services to find good homes for them.

4. Make a Difference With Old Electronics

If your old cell phones, computers or other electronics are collecting dust, donate them to a good cause such as the Domestic Violence Hopeline.

A number of different organizations repair and redistribute electronic items to people in need. Sometimes, if the device is beyond saving, the organization will scrap it and sell the parts to raise money for the cause.

5. Hold a Garage Sale for Charity

If you have a lot of items, you might want to host a garage sale to raise money for your favorite charity. Work with the charity ahead of time to let them know your plan and get their support — they might even be willing to help spread the word.

Consider roping in family, friends or neighbors to contribute their own lightly used items to your charity sale or to help out on the day. Be sure to advertise that all proceeds will go to your chosen charity.

6. Host a Bake Sale or Car Wash

If you don’t have a lot of spare items to sell, consider putting in some elbow grease or exercising your culinary skills to benefit a cause. Work with your favorite charity to put on a car wash or a bake sale to raise money.

Working with the charity directly may help you connect with more volunteers as well as spread the word via social media and other connections.

Before You Donate

If you do have cash to donate (or are considering raising cash to donate), be sure to investigate any nonprofit you’re considering supporting.

Guide Star and Charity Navigator are great resources to consult about U.S. nonprofit organizations. Both share information about organizations’ tax forms, how they spend their money and how well they use the donations they receive.

What Not To Donate

Old cans of lima beans and crushed pineapple often cause more problems for food banks than they solve. Similarly, most charities or nonprofit thrift stores won’t want your ragged T-shirts or holey socks.

Ask the organization what they need most — often it’s items you wouldn’t expect, such as toilet paper or sanitary products.

Many charities, such as food banks, actually prefer cash so they can buy what they need. They can often purchase items in bulk and at a significant discount, so the $5 you have to donate goes much further in their hands than it does in yours.

Don’t Forget Your Tax Deductions

Whether you donate physical items or cash, be sure to obtain a receipt so you can write it off on your taxes. Many nonprofits send a receipt as a matter of course, but if they don’t, follow up and get one because it can help you save money next April.

If you’re driving around to help a charity, like a meal delivery service for seniors, you may even be able to deduct your mileage. Check with your tax professional to see if you’re eligible for any of these deductions.

Your Turn: Do you have a favorite strategy for managing to support charitable organizations when you’re on a budget?

Kristen Pope is a freelance writer and editor in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.