If You’re Strapped for Cash, Here’s How to Help Charities Without Donating Money

Two volunteers pull cans of food out of a box.
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If money’s tight or you’re living paycheck to paycheck, being philanthropic probably seems beyond your reach.

But here’s some good news: You can still give back to the charities and nonprofit organizations that are important to you.

Even when you’re strapped for cash, there are things you can do to help others. Here are six ways.

6 Ways to Help Charities Without Donating Money

These options will let you do good and give back without spending money.

1. Help People Find Jobs

While many people think of volunteering at a food bank or homeless shelter, have you ever considered giving your time to 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.

Many people could use assistance with basic technology, including senior citizens eager to learn how to communicate with relatives and economically disadvantaged job seekers or people with disabilities learning how to use adaptive software.

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 senior 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 an area with 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 that goes unused?

Clear out your closets and pass along those items to people who will use them. Head to your local thrift store to donate your gently used items, post them in local Buy Nothing group or look up domestic violence shelters or kids’ services near you to find good homes for them.

Pro Tip

These tips for minimizing your home can help you find items at home to donate.

4. Make a Difference With Old Electronics

If your old cell phones, computers or other electronics are collecting dust, donate them to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence or Cell Phones for Soldiers.

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 an abundance of unused or unwanted stuff, 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.  Shop for Charity

You can put the money you’re already spending online to good use by using apps and sites that donate a percentage of your purchase to charity.

You’ve probably heard of Amazon Smile, which lets you choose an organization to support with your shopping. Here are four more ways to shop for charity.

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. This post outlines how to evaluate a charity before you give.

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 it needs most — often it’s items you wouldn’t expect, such as toilet paper or sanitary products.

Many charities 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 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.

Kristen Pope is a contributor to The Penny Hoarder.