I think I first paid attention to the power of charitable giving when I was in junior high school. My mom’s best friend was battling cancer, and they got involved with the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life Event. When you put a bunch of Southern women on a project, you can bet you will see results. Our tiny little town with a population of 3,000 raised over $100,000 for cancer research. Although, there is still no universal cure for cancer, seeing those numbers and the pride those ladies took in raising that money really took hold. Since then, I have been involved with some charities that deserve as much attention as a Best Buy ad the day after Thanksgiving. The best thing about my favorite charity experiences is that my time was as valuable as my money. If you are trying to get out of debt, save money, or just keep you head above water, you certainly can give of yourself without spending a penny.
Big Brothers/Big Sisters
My first real charity work without family involvement began with Big Brothers/Big Sisters when I was in college. I certainly had no excess money to donate. My time was about all I had other than my collection of grunge music. If you aren’t familiar, this organization pairs up willing mentors or “bigs” with a child that maybe doesn’t have a good family stucture or role model in their life. There is obviously an extensive screening and background check, and then you are matched with your “little”. You have to agree to a one year committment to spend at least 3- 5 hours every other week with them . I would usually take my little to the dollar movies or we’d make cookies in my dorm. Sometimes we just walked around campus or the mall and talked about stuff. I think she though it was cool to hang out with a college kid (or maybe that was my ego!) They also had group events, like a bowl-a-thon, that were really fun. I think this would be easier for a person or couple without children. Now my own child takes up most of my free time, but I’m really glad I did it when I had the chance.
Students volunteering optometric services to humanity is a charity involving optometry students who are supervised by staff doctors. Many optometry schools have a SVOSH group who collects used eyeglasses all year, cleans them, determines the prescription, and distributes them to needy people in less fortunate countries all over the globe. You have to put in a certain number of service hours to qualify for the trip, and you have to raise money for your flight. I did two trips to Central America and raised the money by giving presentaions to Lions Clubs throughout Tennessee and Kentucky. To see hundreds of people standing in line for hours, without complaint, to get a quasi eye exam and someone’s hand me down glasses is truly humbling. When my daughter is older, I hope to do this again as a staff doctor.
For Pets’ Sake Humane Society
The local humane society has been my charity of choice for many years. The group I work with is all volunteer with no paid staff. We spend less than 5% of our funding on administrative costs, and the rest goes right back into the community to help animals. I have given money to For Pets’ Sake, but my biggest donation is of my time. I have served on the Board of Directors for almost ten years and have held every office except secretary (I am a terrible note taker!) My responsibilites have shifted since I became a mother. I try not to commit any weekend hours, but I still do a variety of things every week, including answering the phone messages and feeding three feral cat colonies. I’ve tried and failed at fostering dogs, because they never seem to leave if they make it across my threshold. When people let you down, and you are unsure that humanity is headed in the right direction, animals can always make your day better. I think they all deserve a chance no matter how rocky some of their lives might have been.
This holiday season as you are planning what to spend on gifts and travel, try to remember your favorite charity. If you don’t have one, there are many ways to find an organization that matches your values. Jeremy at Modest Money and DC at Young Adult Money have had recent posts about this topic. Even if you don’t have any room in your budget, there are tons of worthwhile organizations that truly value your time. You’ll have a much more rewarding experience than opening even the finest gift.
If you find yourself struggling to make ends meet, but still wish to donate to charity, then consider donating something you already own. Boat donations are an excellent way to give to charity without having to break your current budget. Simply visit a website dedicated to this form of charity, fill out a bit of paperwork, and someone will contact you with further details. This is a win-win situation, as it allows you to give a little back while also saving some money during tax season.
What are your favorite charities? Are you volunteering this holiday season?