8 Ways to Donate to Charity When You’re on a Budget

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We can probably all agree that helping those in need is the right thing to do, but donating money to worthy causes might feel tough if you're on a tight budget. One 2020 Gallup poll found charitable giving to be at an all-time low—over a quarter of Americans said they hadn't made any cash donations in the previous year.

If you're feeling philanthropic, there are plenty of ways to make a positive difference without breaking the bank. Here are eight creative tips for donating to charity when you're on a budget.

1. Donate Credit Card Rewards

Many credit card issuers make it easy to donate rewards to a variety of causes. American Express, for example, allows cardholders to give to registered U.S. nonprofit groups. After creating an account on the JustGiving platform, you can make charitable donations with just a few clicks—all without ever disrupting your monthly budget. Co-branded airline and hotel cards can be another resource. Many allow you to donate miles and points to those who need them most.

2. Give Your Time

Research suggests that participating in service activities may actually be good for our mental and physical health—it also doesn't cost a dime. To find volunteer opportunities, think about the causes that have personally affected you or are particularly close to your heart.

From there, search around to see if there are any local initiatives you can get involved in. Not sure where to start? Sites like VolunteerMatch and JustServe allow you to search for volunteer events based on your specific interests and location.

3. Make Budget-Friendly Donations

You don't have to make large donations to do good in the world. Together Rising, a well-established nonprofit that supports a variety of global issues, has raised over $30 million since 2012—and the most frequent donation is just $25.

Look at your budget to determine if there's a monthly or quarterly donation amount that you can easily afford. Even if it seems insignificant, those little donations can help move the needle in a big way. You can automate your donations to one specific charity or choose different causes each time you donate. If you go with the latter, make it a family activity and select the recipient together.

4. Explore ESG Investing

Instead of making cash donations, look to your investment accounts. ESG investing is focused on environmental sustainability, social consciousness and corporate governance. The idea is to align your investments with companies that are excelling in these areas. In this way, you can use your portfolio to support worthwhile initiatives. You're also positioning yourself for potential financial returns (a win-win for all).

You can explore this strategy through ESG mutual funds, ESG exchange-traded funds (ETFs) or individual stocks. A skilled financial advisor can help you get started, or you can do it yourself by managing your investment portfolio through a brokerage.

5. Team Up With Your Employer

Check with your employer to see if they'll match some or all of your charitable donations. It's a potential way to contribute less of your own money while increasing the amount that's given. Gap Inc. is a great example. After employees have worked at the company for a year, Gap will match their donations to eligible community organizations as a way of encouraging them to give back.

You can also see if your employer provides any paid time off for volunteer work. This is a standard employee benefit at Experian, for example, which allows employees to donate their time without sacrificing their paychecks.

6. Donate Items Instead of Money

Household items can support charity organizations as well. Working Wardrobes, for example, is a California-based nonprofit that collects gently used clothing for people in need. This helps recipients secure employment and, in turn, better their lives. Do a quick search to see if there are any secondhand stores in your area that follow a similar model. The Kimberly Home, based in Florida, focuses on providing resources for pregnant women and mothers. Its thrift shops support this mission and provide employment opportunities in the community.

7. Contribute Cash Windfalls

Leveraging cash windfalls can be a simple way to help others without rocking your regular budget. This can include all types of "found money," from tax refunds to work bonuses. Whenever you come into a chunk of unexpected cash, see if you can earmark some of it for charitable giving. The rest can go toward your financial goals. The same idea can work for money you make through a side gig.

8. Organize an Online Fundraiser

Use the power of social media to rally a wave of donations for a cause you care about. Maybe that's helping a friend or family member in need or a nonprofit that's important to you. By creating a digital hub for giving, you can spread the word and share their story. If you have a birthday or event coming up, you can even request that people make donations instead of giving you a traditional gift.

Platforms like GoFundMe easily sync with your social media pages and allow for quick mobile donations. Many also have built-in relationships with charities.

The Bottom Line

Charitable giving doesn't have to be something you sacrifice in the name of financial wellness. Instead, the two can go hand in hand. Experian is all about supporting you along that journey. Tools like free credit monitoring can help keep your financial health going strong as you find ways to make a positive difference.