41 Free or Cheap Ways to Give to Charity

41 Free or Cheap Ways to Give to Charity
Photo by fendyrodzi / Shutterstock.com

It’s a new year, and perhaps you have made a resolution to make a difference in 2017. Even if you don’t have much money to spare, there are plenty of ways to give that don’t involve writing a check.

And if you have a little bit of extra cash, even a dollar or two can make a surprisingly large impact. Following are 41 ways to give that cost little or nothing.

1. Box Tops 4 Education

These little coupons, worth 10 cents apiece, show up on products from seven manufacturers, including General Mills, Hanes and Hefty. A dime at a time might not sound like much, but it does add up.

2. Use your rewards

If you have a rewards credit card or belong to a program like Swagbucks or MyPoints, get creative about the way you use some of your loot. Cash in for a gift card to donate to Big Brothers Big Sisters of America. Or, have Amazon deliver some items to the senior center.

3. Blanket protection

Do you sew or knit? Look for a regional chapter of Project Linus, a nonprofit that provides blankets to ill or traumatized children.

4. Freecycle it

That bike you no longer ride or trunk full of baby clothes would be welcomed by folks who can’t afford such things. See if there’s a local chapter of The Freecycle Network, or put unwanted items up for grabs on the “free” section of Craigslist.

For safety’s sake, leave the stuff on the porch or in your driveway for someone to pick up. Or, offer to meet the new owners in a public place for a drop-off.

5. Trade in ink tanks

Recycle your printer cartridges at Staples, Office Max or Office Depot. Then, use the store credit to buy art supplies to donate to a school, or purchase office items for a nonprofit.

6. Share your magazines

When you’re done reading periodicals, cut off the mailing labels and ask permission to leave the magazines where people gather, such as a laundromat, food bank or social services agency. Or see if the elementary school can use them for educational or crafts purposes.

7. Give away plastic utensils

Someone can use those sealed packets of plastic utensils you get with takeout orders at work or home. Donate these to schools, community groups or a food pantry.

8. Donate old books

The American Library Association maintains a resource page on organizations that accept donated books. Children’s titles might find homes at after-school programs, public health clinics or social service agencies.

9. Coupon for a better world

The CouponMom.com website began as a project by Atlanta resident Stephanie Nelson, who exhorted fellow couponers to collect free or nearly free items for food banks. While the deals aren’t as great as they once were, “it’s still possible to ‘buy’ free products [with] coupons when items are on sale,” Nelson says.

Her site matches coupons to sales at hundreds of drugstores, supermarkets and dollar stores across the country.

10. Pick up recyclables

Do you walk for exercise? Take a bag and pick up cans and bottles along the way. Your neighborhood gets a little cleaner, and the money can go to your favorite cause.

11. Donate pet- or house-sitting

A Seattle neighbor used to hire me to check in on her cat when she took short vacations. After the first couple of times, I asked that she make a donation to charity instead of paying me. You can do the same.

12. Lend your phone

Maybe someone in a nursing home or veterans hospital would like to call family/friends but can’t afford it. If you have unlimited minutes, talk to a social worker about sharing your phone for an hour at a time.

13. Give new eyes

Replacing your glasses? Leave the previous pair with a group that will find new users, such as Lions Clubs International or New Eyes. A number of optical chains (including LensCrafters, Sears Optical, Target Optical, Pearle Vision and Sunglass Hut) also recycle glasses.

14. Give new ears

A number of groups accept hearing aids, including Lions Clubs International’s Hearing Aid Recycling Program, and Help the Children Hear.

15. Donate blood

Not everyone can do this, but it makes a great impact: A single donation can save up to three people, according to the Red Cross.

16. Give a puzzle

Finished with a jigsaw puzzle? Maybe a senior center, after-school program or group home could use it.

17. Put your pet to work

If you have a friendly pet and a lot of time to dedicate, get certified as a therapy duo. The American Kennel Club has a list of groups that provide training. Pet Partners is a nonprofit focusing on multiple species of therapy animals.

18. Give new life to old coupons

Expired coupons can be used for up to six months by military families overseas. The Krazy Coupon Lady offers donation details on her website.

19. Give your time

We can’t all be lawyers doing pro bono work or physicians providing free care in impoverished areas. But you might be able to coach youth sports, hand out water at a charity 10K, set up chairs at a poetry slam or help keep a park clean.

20. Donate items bought at clearance sales

My best buy ever was finding those stretchy knit gloves at two pairs for 33 cents. I bought 100 pairs and gave them to a shelter. If you see toys, warm socks, clothing or other items at a price you can afford, donate them.

21. Be a mentor

That could mean being a Big Brother or a Big Sister, but other options exist. Maybe you could invite a teen to job-shadow you and see if he or she really has what it takes to be an architect or large-animal veterinarian. Perhaps a youth in your place of worship needs to spend time with adults who care.

22. Plant a Row for the Hungry

Got a garden? Add a few more plants and donate the surplus to your local food bank, shelter or soup kitchen. The Plant a Row for the Hungry program has helped gardeners in the U.S. donate more than 20 million pounds of produce since 1995.

23. Teach somebody something

Be willing to share information with someone about your specialty, whether that’s science or cooking or archery.

24. Pass things along

Clothing, books, housewares and other items can benefit Goodwill, the Salvation Army, Value Village and other charities. But please make sure the items are usable — this is not a free pass to get rid of your worn-out stuff.

25. Help your neighbors

Know someone who’s physically unable to handle certain chores? Offer to pull the trash can to the curb, shovel the snow and clean leaves from the rain gutters in the spring.

26. Donate your hair

Someone who needs a wig might be able to use your lustrous locks. Mary Hoover, who blogs at Mission: To Save, lists several organizations that accept certain lengths of hair.

27. Give linens a second life

When sheets or towels are too worn out to use, see if the animal shelter or animal rescue groups can use them.

28. Work with kids

If you can make a firm commitment, sign up to coach sports, lead a Scouting group or teach a Sunday school class. Just don’t be offended when they do a background check.

29. Donate backpacks

Schools and social service organizations can likely find a match for backpacks in good condition. If a couple of bags are languishing in your closet, give them another shot at usefulness.

30. Sign up as an organ donor

Some people’s religious or personal preferences nix this one, but please consider it if you can. And tell your family, so your wishes will be known.

31. Give a car

Ready to replace your hoopty? Weigh the few hundred bucks you might get in a trade-in against the good that the vehicle might do for someone else. Before donating the car to charity, use Charity Navigator’s tips to make sure you do it right.

32. Donate gift card balances

Just a few bucks left on that Walgreens or Target card? Offer it to a group home, family shelter, animal rescue agency or some other organization.

33. Host charitable parties

I’ve read about birthday bashes where guests are asked to bring canned food or pet supplies, which are later donated to food banks or animal charities. It’s worth talking to your children about the idea, since our kids tend to have enough toys.

34. Buy one, give one

Anytime there’s a BOGO sale on spaghetti sauce or socks, keep one and donate the “free” one. Easy enough.

35. Share the miles

If you’ve accumulated a lot of frequent-flier miles, consider sharing some with groups such as the Red Cross or Make-A-Wish. Some airlines have their own programs. “Donating Miles to Charity” on About.com offers details.

36. Get something, give something

When things come into your life unexpectedly — such as gifts or workplace incentives — consider whether someone else could use them more than you.

The $5 Starbucks card your dentist gave you because she was running late would make a nice door prize at the next PTA meeting. That basket of treats sent by a business colleague might be welcomed at the family shelter.

You don’t have to give away everything, but doing it now and then is a good self-awareness exercise.

37. Register as a bone marrow donor

If a match is ever found, you might be saving someone’s life.

38. Donate your coins

Empty your change into a jar every night. Every so often, donate the result. If you’re on a tight budget, donate just the dimes or just the nickels. It’ll take longer, but you’ll still be doing some good.

39. Bring your own bag

Some stores will give you a 3- to 5-cent credit when you bring your own reusable sack. Save those coins, and eventually you’ll have enough to give away. Again, it’s not much, but suppose everyone did it?

40. Do without

Every so often, skip that fast-food meal/cupcake/beer and put the money you would have spent into a donation jar. A little self-denial is good for us, and the saved cash will be good for someone else.

41. Give away My Coke Rewards points

Those codes can help such causes as Goodwill, the USO and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Don’t drink soda? Rally friends and relatives to collect them and volunteer to enter the codes yourself.

Have any other ideas for free/cheap ways to give? Share them by commenting below or on our Facebook page.

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