Home > Charity > Charitable Giving: Your Time Is As Valuable As Money

Charitable Giving: Your Time Is As Valuable As Money

Elsie was almost feral when rescued and is now awaiting a forever home

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?


About Kim Parr

Kim Parr is a private practice optometrist, freelance writer, and personal financial blogger. You can follow her journey to 20/20 financial vision at Eyes on the Dollar.


  1. When I am in my impending early retirement I’m going to volunteer with a local charity called Whitelion which pairs at risk children with mentors. It’s an awesome charity that does a lot of good in my area.

  2. That is so sweet that you volunteer at the Humane Society. I think that would seriously break my heart. I’m glad that there are people like you to do that…..I don’t think I could.

    No, I haven’t volunteered time this holiday season. I just dont have any this year unfortunately. I did donate money to a few things though and sponsored a family for Christmas!!!

    • I don’t do lots of direct work with the animals or I’d have 12 cats. I do more of the behind the scenes stuff. For some reason, I am very good at getting people and businesses to sponsor events. Probably because I’ve been hit up so many times at my business!

  3. Good post. We’ve not been able to give any time so far. Though we do tend to volunteer at a nursing home a few times around Christmas. It’s great for the kids and the people there love seeing little ones.

    • My daughter’s dance class does a program at the nursing home around Christmas. It’s really fun and they do love seeing the little ones.

  4. Mandy - Money Master Mom

    When I was in highschool and university I donated time to charity because I didn’t have cash. Now I donate cash because with 3 kids, a hubby, a blog and a job I seem to be short on time. After traveling so much and experiencing poverty first hand I tend to donate to charities working overseas.

  5. Love the post, I was going to do something similar but haven’t gotten around to it yet. There are a few specific charities I donate to: Feed My Starving Children, WorldVision, and International Justice Mission. We also give money to people going on missions trips or serving as full-time missionaries. It’s so important that people donate to good causes, they need the funding!

    • There are really too many to choose from and it’s hard to decide. I try to choose one main one and I’ll do a few extra things around the holidays.

      • That’s not a bad plan! Another thing -> I would love to volunteer on Saturday mornings and some weeknights, but I am so drained from work and side projects (on time of regular life responsibilities) that I have limited time to donate. It motivates me to work more at side income/multiple income streams so I can “create” space in my schedule to volunteer.

  6. I generally don’t give money to charities. Having worked in a research institution in the past, I have a pretty good idea of how (at least in Vancouver) the money raised by these charities benefit administrators more than they benefit recipients.

    As a result, I tend to lean more towards giving physical items, like food to the food bank and toys to Christmas toy drives. There are still things that bug me about these charities (who decides what the “cut off” is for determining recipients, and how do you make it fair?) but for the most part, I prefer to take my chances with these types of charities.

    I am doing some volunteering as a mentor though my school’s mentoring program, but it’s not Christmas related. 🙂

    • That’s why I love local charities who aren’t affiliated with a national organization. The money stays local and most goes to the cause.

  7. We regularly tithe to our local church, we sponsor a child through a charity called Watoto, and I’m a big fan of Homes for our Troops. There are a few other things that I hope to contribute to one day as well, but I need to get more into the giving of my time. It’s been tough lately as my schedule hasn’t allowed for any, but I need to make some time.

    • My time is at a premium, so I try to do little things several days a week instead of spending a several hour chunk of time like I used to.

  8. Back before work schedules got in the way, I used to volunteer at a local Habitat for Humanity ReStore testing donated electronics and cleaning them up for sale.

  9. The Ronald McDonald house is where we tend to donate the most. I don’t have the time to volunteer there since we just had a baby this year and he takes up most of our free time. We still give them money and all our pop-tops.

    Other than that, we do charity runs (got one tomorrow morning!) and some charity motorcycle rides (not sure it’s gonna happen this year with the baby).

  10. I volunteer at a few different places and sit on a few Board of directors. You’re right, the time that volunteers donate is worth far more than that money.

  11. I love this article (love all articles on working with charities and you named some great ones there)

    This holiday season we’ll be doing a couple things. We have a family tradition to serve thanksgiving meals to the homeless in our city every Thanksgiving morning. A group of our friends from church have also adopted a local needy family through the Salvation Army for Christmas. Its a great way to help those in need, because you get to play Santa for kids who have very little in life.

    Probably my favorite charity in my community is the Salvation Army, they do so much for those in poverty.

    • I love how much the Salvation Army accomplishes. They do all kinds of things, including dental work for people in pain. I love that.

  12. Doing volunteer work is a great way to give back. I use to be a Big Sister. It was a lot of fun.

    And several years ago I did volunteer work at a local organization called the Children’s Cottage. They take in children from newborn to age 13 and look after them. The children are brought there by the police if the police determine that their home life is unsafe. It is a beautiful temporary shelter for children, but a sad job to do when you consider the circumstances of why they are there.

  13. Sadly I haven’t given to any charities. I’ve donated to environmental groups which are nonprofits, but other than that no actual charity. I have done volunteering though and the last one was Meals on Wheels for the elderly.

  14. While studying in college I used to volunteer for Habitat for Humanity and another local organization which helped refugees find job opportunities in our area. I found these experiences invaluable and more satisfying than receiving a paycheck. I will encourage my daughter to volunteer her time during the holidays. So many are in need and without a proper family.

  15. We usually give time rather than money. We volunteer at the Food Bank, do neighborhood cleanup, and answer phones to raise money for the local public television station.

    • I bet the phone thing might be fun. We used to watch the Jerry Lewis telethon every year and I always wanted to be a phone operator.

  16. I’m so glad that you pointed out how your humane society uses its money so efficiently. We try and align our charitable giving with our values, and one of those values is efficient use of funds. Why would we spend lots of time and effort to make our dollars stretch just to give them to an organization that has no qualms about spending half or more on administrative overhead and fundraising costs.
    Also, I think it’s amazing that you are so involved with the humane society. I think my heart would break. We have a friend really involved in dog rescue (there were a LOT of dogs abandoned in the foreclosure crisis here, actually), and some of the stories she tells will break your heart.

  17. Annoyingly, a volunteer gig I applied for a couple months ago just never got back to me! The phone number given didn’t even work, so I had to hunt down an email contact address. Guess they found someone else or just never got around to getting help.

    In the future I’d like to volunteer with new migrants and youth on a more long term basis – I just can’t commit to that at the moment.

  18. Awesome post, Kim! I just spent a week with habitat for humanity to build a house for a young couple. We have our dreams and aspirations, but we shall never ignore those who need our time.

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