By Cassie Jewell, M.Ed., LPC
To build self-esteem, one must do “esteemable” acts.
I’m not sure who originally said this, but it’s something I (as a substance abuse counselor) often told my clients. I worked with adults who were worn down or broken from their battle with addiction; an individual with a substance use disorder often feels tremendous guilt and shame.
One of the best things a person can do to build self-esteem or live a more meaningful life is to help others…
I taught my clients to cherish themselves, to forgive, and to find a purpose in life. One of the best things a person can do to build self-esteem or live a more meaningful life is to help others; random acts of kindness, volunteering at a homeless shelter, reading to children at a library, donating toiletries or blankets to someone who has lost their home in a fire… There are countless ways to help. Research indicates that practicing compassion and volunteering build self-esteem.
Unfortunately, not everyone has the time to volunteer (or the resources to donate). The purpose of this list is to provide ideas for charity contributions that are easy, cheap, and fun. I created this list for people who may not have a lot of money or time. I found some awesome ways to give back that aren’t time-consuming; many of the ideas require minimum effort and/or are 100% free. Build them into your life and feel happy about helping those in need!
UNIQUE AND FUN
1. Purchase Who Gives A Crap toilet paper.
Products are environmentally friendly and 50% of profits go to help build toilets and improve sanitation in the developing world.
2. Donate your wedding dress for a cause.
Here are a few of my favorites:
Wish Upon A Wedding: A nonprofit organization that grants weddings and vow renewals for couples facing serious illness or a life-altering circumstance.
Adorned in Grace: All proceeds are used to promote awareness and prevention of sex trafficking as well as crisis prevention for trafficked victims.
Cherie Amour: Proceeds from dress sales help low income individuals get jobs.
Fairytale Brides: Net proceeds from all sales are donated to charitable organizations supporting women’s empowerment programs.
3. Save a life by joining a marrow registry such as Be The Match or Gift of Life.
Your donation may save the life of a person with a blood cancer like leukemia and lymphoma. You must be in good health and you must be prepared to spend 20-30 (non-consecutive) hours of your time if you are chosen. Not everyone is chosen; according to Be The Match, about 1 in 430 members goes on to donate marrow or peripheral blood stem cells. If you join Gift of Life, you have a 1 in 250 chance of being a match, but then only a 20% chance of donating.
You can also donate blood at a blood drive. O-negative is the universal donor type because it is compatible with any blood type, but only about 5% of the U.S. population have this blood type. There’s a great need for O-negative donations (Source: https://www.redcrossblood.org/learn-about-blood/blood-types.html)
4. With Kiva, lend as little as $25 to help a borrower start or grow a business, go to school, access clean energy or realize their potential.
100% of every dollar goes to a loan. You can browse through different categories and attributes. According to Kiva, 97% of loans are repaid, but there’s no guarantee. You can read the borrower’s story before you submit your loan. (I loaned $25 to a woman in El Salvador to help her buy a sewing machine. Update: I received full repayment within three months.)
5. Help the homeless.
Keep a pack of bottled water in your car. Alternatively, you can provide someone in need with a small bag filled with toiletry items, socks, tissues, granola bars, etc. (Take the extra shampoo, lotions, and soap when you’re at a hotel and put them to use!) If the weather is cold, buy gloves or hats from the dollar store to hand out. Give $5 gift cards for Burger King or Taco Bell. Personally, I choose to not give cash. (Many of the “homeless” individuals you see are panhandlers.) However, if I’m in an area with a large homeless population, I buy a pack of cigarettes; when someone asks for change, I offer a cigarette instead. Lastly, because of the work I do, I have business-sized cards with a crisis line, a phone number for local resources (including shelters), and a number for a substance use program, which I pass out if needed.
6. Host a closet swap party!
Exy Castellanos, a social worker from Chattanooga, Tennessee, provided this idea. “My friends and I have a closet swap party. We swap clothes and stuff and whatever is left over we donate to a local thrift store (not Goodwill).”
7. Volunteer with Idealist.
It’s free to sign up, to search for opportunities, and to connect with others. Idealist is a global network of people and organizations that connects individuals with advantages to work, volunteer, or intern. To give you a better idea, here are examples of some volunteer opportunities: Reading partner at an under-resourced elementary school, judging a local competition, playing with homeless children one night a week, coaching a sports team, volunteer zoo guide, volunteering at a museum, cleaning up a national park, and interpreter.
8. Run (or walk/march/bike) for charity!
Pick a cause and raise funds.
9. An Internet search led me to Helping Hands: Monkey Helpers for the Disabled, which helps adults with spinal cord injuries and other mobility impairments in the U.S. to live more independent and engaged lives.
This is accomplished by providing the individuals with unique service animals (at no cost): Highly trained service monkeys to help with daily tasks.
10. Janelle Bennett from Michigan suggested Charity: Water, a great organization bringing people clean water.
100% of donations go to actually helping people. You can start a fun campaign to raise funds; one guy actually rented his face and let a stranger shave his beard on the street to raise money.
11. Every time you buy concert tickets, donate to charity.
At one point in my life, I decided that if I could afford concert tickets, I could afford a small donation ($25) for a good cause. (And it doesn’t have to be concert tickets; it can be anything you want! Buying a piece of jewelry, purchasing an electronic device, dinning out, etc.)
12. Instead wedding favors, make a donation to your favorite charity for each guest.
At my wedding, my husband and I picked a lung cancer nonprofit to honor his father, who passed away from lung cancer. You can buy cards on Etsy or, just make them yourself with pearl cardstock paper! (See photo from my wedding.)
13. Tabs for a Cause is a free browser extension.
Every time you open a new tab, a donation is made to your favorite charity.
14. Lyft has a “round up and donate” setting; opt in, and your fare will round up automatically with each ride.
There are a variety of causes to choose from.
15. “Click to give” at GreaterGood.
It’s completely free. You can click once per day, and there are multiple causes to choose. I first discovered GreaterGood through The Animal Rescue Site; a single click helps to provide food and shelter to animals in need. (You can also do some shopping and a percentage of the item’s retail price is donated to a cause. I bought a beautiful handbag with a jungle print!)
16. Shop at AmazonSmile at no extra cost, and Amazon will donate a portion of the purchase price to your favorite charitable organization.
You can choose from nearly 1 million charities, including local charities.
17. If you use Swagbucks, you can donate your Swagbucks to various charitable causes instead of redeeming for a gift card or cash.
Similarly, some airlines will allow you to donate your miles to a cause.
18. If you’re a runner, download the Charity Miles app to earn money for charity for the miles you run.
You can also earn money for walking and biking.
19. Play free vocabulary games at Free Rice and for each correct answer, 10 grains of rice are donated to World Food Programme to help end hunger.
Free Rice has two goals: To provide free education and to end world hunger
Wands for Wildlife: Donate old mascara wands! They’re used to gently remove fly eggs and larva from the fur of wild animals. (Wash in soap and warm water before mailing.)
Coin Up: Download the app to round up on credit or debit card transactions. Your “spare change” is then donated to the charity of your choice each month.
CoinStar Coins That Count: Take your change to a CoinStar kiosk to donate to a charity of your choice. A printed receipt will be provided.
Rake a neighbor’s yard or shovel their driveway.
Pay for a stranger’s coffee, dinner, grocery item, etc.
Before making a donation, you can check a charity’s credibility (including a financial breakdown of funds) at the BBB Wise Giving Alliance. Alternatively, you can use Charity Watch, which grades charities and includes “red flag” information. The site also provides a list of the top charities. Also, Charity Navigator, which includes guides and tips for donating items, volunteering, informed giving, and more.
What are some creative and unique ways to donate to charity? Leave an answer in the “Comments” section!
Updated June 22, 2018
Karche, M. (2009). Increases in academic connectedness and self-esteem among high school students who serve as cross-age peer mentors. Professional School Counseling, 12(4), 292-299.
Mongrain, M., Chin, J., &, Shapira, L. (2011). Practicing compassion increases happiness and self-esteem. Journal of Happiness Studies, 12(963).
von Bonsdorff, M.B. &, Rantanen, T. (2011). Benefits of formal voluntary work among older people: A review. Aging Clinical and Experimental Research, 23(162).