7 Ways to Give Back (and Save a Life)

Article by Make The Days Count Contributor Jennifer Snelling

 

You probably do it all year and don’t even think about it.  If you don’t, you’re starting to think about it now.  The holidays are that time of year when a magnifying glass is held over our lives, our financial status, and our generosity.  Often, it isn’t just the fact that we’re expected to give at this time of year – that many of us are shopping for gifts, being asked to help with fundraisers, or hearing those Salvation Army bells tolling on the corner – but also that we, for some reason, feel compelled to do something to participate in the general warmth of the season.  In fact, it can be very depressing when we feel apart from it.

 

There are all kinds of ways to give, and they don’t necessarily have to be monetary.  Here are seven simple and inexpensive ways to make you feel like you’ve helped someone or improved the world, without traveling to exotic places or spending a lot of money.

 

The Collection Jar.  “Every penny counts.”  The old adage is one-hundred-percent true!  Everywhere you look there are boxes, buckets and jars for all sorts of causes – from the corporate-sponsored shelter to the family down the street that needs extra help for medical expenses.  All they are asking for is some spare change.  They KNOW that every penny counts.  One penny each from 100 hundred people is one dollar.  There are over 300 million people living in the United States alone.  It would take far less than one percent of the population giving only one penny each to raise over $100,000.  Think about how much even one nickel, dime, quarter, or dollar could help.  There is a reason organizations hold out boots in front of the fire department, or ring the bell next to that bucket.  Almost every checkout line and fast-food restaurant has a jar of some kind to raise money for charity.  Pick one that you feel deeply about and drop a few coins in it.  If you don’t, those few pennies are just going to be hanging out in your pocket anyway.  It is a simple way to make a difference in the world and feel like you have contributed to a good cause.

 

Links, references and ads.  In lieu of or in addition to monetary donations to your favorite cause, consider putting a link to their website in your email signature or on your webpage with a personal endorsement or story of why the cause is close to your heart.  Make a note of your effort to get their name out to your friends and family in correspondence or holiday cards.  (You can even buy holiday cards from the fundraising projects of many causes – like Save the Children and World Wildlife Fund, as two of the many and varied examples.)  Let people know that if they can’t donate, they can pass the word along to people who might.  Word of mouth is certainly an effective way of advertising, so share the word about causes that are meaningful to you!

 

Human Interaction.  You probably know someone that spends a lot of time alone or lives miles away from their loved ones.  You might even be that loved one.  Take a moment to sit down and write a letter or card with some personal thoughts, give them a telephone call, or, better yet, go visit them.  More often than not, people would prefer to know you’re thinking about them or care enough to interact with them than receive a gift.  Human interaction is often a better present to them than any material object.  This could be anyone – someone elderly at your church, a neighbor, a young person who has moved away from home for the first time, or a long-lost friend or relative.  If you can’t think of anyone from your own personal experience, it can be just as rewarding to write a letter to a child or impoverished family in another country, send a card to a stranger serving in the military, or to visit a nursing home and talk to someone who looks like they could use a friend.  Not only will you feel like you’re doing your part in the world – you might just gain a friend in the process.

 

Be a role model.  This is probably one of the easiest, most fun, and most rewarding ways to give back.  You probably won’t even have to change your normal behavior in any way.  There are children and young people everywhere – your own children, nieces and nephews, younger siblings, cousins, friends’ kids, and even programs like Big Brothers Big Sisters that will match you with a young person to mentor.  Being a role model or mentor doesn’t have to involve spending a lot of money.  You can read a book together, go to the park, play games, draw pictures, and any number of other simple things that create lasting memories.  Being a role model is leading by example, and, in essence, teaching another person how to be a role model as well.  While you’re at it, drop some spare change in a bucket or go out of your way to say “thank you” to people.

 

“One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”  Don’t throw out those old clothes, books, lawn furniture, cell phones or anything else without considering whether they might be useful to someone.  If you usually take old items to a consignment shop or sell them on the internet, consider donating them.  If you run your own business, clean one old item off of your shelves or out of your inventory for a charitable cause.  Many churches and community organizations accept donations of food, clothes, and other household items and products to disperse to low-income families or use in humanitarian missions.  They may not advertise these services, but you don’t have to dig very deep to find them.  A waiting room at your doctor’s office might have a box tucked away for old glasses, or your social organization might have a pet project that they accept items for.  There are also many websites on line that you can find with a simple Google search like “donate shoes.”  If you can’t find a place to donate your old items, there’s always Goodwill, where you drive up, drop off, and they use your items to provide jobs, education, and career training to people that need it.

 

Use your talents.  Are you good at something?  Where can you use that talent to encourage or comfort others?  Think about something you enjoy doing or have a gift for – reading, writing, singing, playing an instrument, teaching, math, working with animals….  The list is as long and varied as the list of individuals on the earth.  Think about places where your talents might be useful or helpful and put them to good use.  Play guitar for the elderly or infirmed at a hospital or nursing home. Offer to read books to children at the local library.  Volunteer your services to a nearby animal shelter, or find out how to train your pet to be a therapy animal to visit nursing homes.  There are so many countless ways to give back while using your own talents and doing what you enjoy, just in your spare time!

 

“Donate Life.”  If you haven’t already, consider signing the back of your license or obtaining a donor card to carry in your wallet, or donating blood to the Red Cross.  Give something that costs you nothing and would not just improve someone else’s life, but save it.  For more information, visit http://www.donatelife.net/,  http://www.redcross.org/, or http://www.organdonor.gov/.

 

“Each person has inside a basic decency and goodness. If he listens to it and acts on it, he is giving a great deal of what it is the world needs most. It is not complicated but it takes courage. It takes courage for a person to listen to his own goodness and act on it.”
-Pau (Pablo) Casals

 

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Posted on 19 November, 2008 in Gratitude, Helping Others, Making the Day Count
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One Response so far | Have Your Say!

  1. Brandon Lawrence
    November 19th, 2008 at 10:47 pm #

    Jennifer, this article is great. Most “give back” articles are predictable and this gives us a real mix of fresh ideas or actions we can take that make sense. Thanks! Brandon

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