How You Can Give Back When You Can’t Afford Cash Donations

How You Can Give Back When You Can’t Afford Cash Donations

by Zoe Won

From hurricanes to homelessness, there are plenty of charities seeking donations from well-meaning individuals looking to save some money on their taxes, amongst other things. Add global causes to the list — some of the most cost effective and impactful ones can be found at The Life You Can Save and the giving is seemingly endless. Cash is king for most non-profits, but not everyone can afford a monetary donation. It doesn't mean that they can't help. There's a host of ways to give back even if you are short on cash.

1. Volunteering Your Time Can Be Better Than Money

Time is money. That's particularly true when seeking to donate to a charity when you can't give money. You may not be able to drop off a check for $1,000 but you can give the time equivalence instead. In lots of cases, nonprofits need volunteers, whether it's to feed the homeless at a soup kitchen or to hand out water to survivors of a hurricane.

Non-profits often also need volunteers to do work at the ground level as well. They may not be in business to make money but they do have to operate as a company, which means having accountants, marketers, human resources and other business departments. On shoestring budgets, these charities often turn to volunteers to fill the talent shortages. Accountants can volunteer their time, helping a non-profit with their financial statements while teachers can tutor children in underserved neighborhoods around the country. Both won't cost a penny other than time but will have a huge impact on the lives they touch.

If you don't have skills the non-profit you're targeting needs, you can always be an ambassador getting the word out about their mission by sharing on social media or blogging about the cause. If you have a passion for something and volunteer your time, it will often pay the charity back way more than writing a check can. Not to mention that it will enable you to feel like you are a part of the cause and make good friends along the way. For people who are out of work and volunteering, it might even result in a paying job down the road.

2. Unload Your Old Goods

One person's trash is another person's treasure, and that can be particularly true when donating to a charity. You may have a bunch of "junk" lying around that could be very meaningful for someone less fortunate than yourself.

Take work clothes for example. You may balk at wearing that suit yet again but to someone else, it can mean the difference between landing a job and getting back on their feet, and living off of food stamps or eating one meal a day. Same goes for that old laptop that hasn't been turned on in more than a year. It may be too old by your standards, but for a child who has never gone online it can open up a whole new world of learning.

Cleaning out the closet, going through the storage room, and doing a little spring cleaning of your home can yield you a ton of items that, while worthless to you, may be valuable to charities. It could be anything from old clothes to toys collecting dust in the corner of the playroom. A slew of nonprofits are looking for all sorts of donations and will pick them up at your home in many instances. Some charities also operate second-hand stores where donors can drop off their used clothes and other items.

3. Enlist Your Company

Are you short on cash but have a cause you really care about? Enlist your employer's help. These days, it's not enough for a company to turn a profit and enrich its shareholders and employees. They also need to be a good corporate citizen, which means giving back to the communities they serve and are located in.

Philanthropy also helps companies recruit and retain key staff. It's very important for many millennial workers, who will balk at working at a company that doesn't align with their values and beliefs. After the great recession, scores of younger workers were reticent to do business with big Wall Street banks, let alone work for them. Companies are well aware of the increasing need to give back and should be open to requests by employees.

Approach human resources at your enterprise and see if they will help either via a monetary donation or organizing volunteer work. Many larger companies will match the amount employees give to a charity so, if you are cash-strapped and can only give a little, it can have more impact by enlisting your employer.

4. Get Crafty to Give

You may not be able to afford a cash donation, but making something won't break the bank and can go a long way in putting a smile on someone's face. Around the holidays, you can make cards for the military or for sick children, bake food to donate to fundraising bake sales or soup kitchens, and otherwise use your crafting skills to give back.

It doesn't have to only be during the holiday season. There are also several charities that need people with sewing and crafting skills to do anything from sewing pillows for sick children to making dresses for underprivileged girls around the world.

5. Use a Credit Card That Gives to Charities

Just as there are credit cards that reward you every time you swipe with discounts on flights and cash back, there are credit cards that will give rewards points to charities. Going with one of those credit cards, granted the interest rate and fees are fair, can be a way to donate when you don't have much money to give. Sure, it won't make the charity rich, after all the percentage that goes to the charity is tiny, but it is a way to do your part.

If you're looking for a bigger way to give but don't have the cash, many banks and credit card issuers will let you donate or gift your rewards points or earned cashback to a variety of non-profits. Not to mention that you'll get a tax break on your donation.

Final Thoughts

With countless tragedies happening on any given day, people want to help. Some have the ability to write a check, but for cash-strapped consumers, that's not an option. But it doesn't mean that they have to be left feeling helpless. The needs of non-profits go far beyond money, giving everyone an opportunity to help.

Volunteering your time and/or your skills can even turn out to be more impactful than writing a check to your favorite charity each year.


Zoe Won is a CPA whose main clients are big businesses looking for her support in making the right financial moves, such as charitable donations, that will help them save big on their taxes at the end of the fiscal year.


For more ideas, see this Money Crashers article on 10 Reasons to Volunteer Your Time or Work for Free

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The views expressed in blog posts are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Peter Singer or The Life You Can Save.