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How to give when you just can't

Can you spare some change?

Maybe. Maybe not.

It seems as if we're all being hit up all the time by every worthy organization out there. And who doesn't want to end hunger? Or heal children? Stop cancer? Save animals? Protect seniors? End drug use? Support their child's school?

We love giving. It makes us feel good. It makes our community stronger and a nicer place to live. But the hard truth is that we don't always have the cash to spare. Don't feel obligated to give if you simply can't do it without being financially irresponsible.

So what can you do? Fortunately, there are a number of great ways you can still give back to your favorite causes without breaking the bank. We've rounded up some of our favorite ideas:

1. Volunteer

Time. You can't buy it. We never have enough. Giving what can't be bought is perhaps the greatest gift of all. Additionally, spending time as boots-on-the-ground can be even more satisfying than simply dropping a buck in a bucket. You've got great opportunity for social interaction, you can meet the folks/animals you're helping, and it's just plain time well-spent. Here are some more benefits of volunteering your time. Best of all, your money might be finite, but if you're dedicated to multiple causes, you can spread your time around and help out multiple places!

2. Amazon Smiles

Buying on Amazon? May we suggest looking locally first? If you really can't find what you need here, then we wanted to let you know that the company offers shoppers the opportunity to support their favorite charity when they shop through the Amazon Smiles program. Simply search for your favorite charity in their database and then when you're logging on to shop, go to instead of the usual page. They give 0.5% of your eligible purchases to your selected charity. It may not be a lot, but every little bit helps and you had to make that purchase anyway. If you didn't have to make that purchase, perhaps your spending habits are the reason you don't have any funds left over at the end of the month to save. Or donate.

If your favorite charity isn't in Amazon's database, contact their director and ask them to get signed up. They're missing out on the opportunity to get nearly effortless revenue and it gives them something else to talk to their supporters about in their monthly e-newsletters and mailings. Plus, if they have fans who can't ever give financially, they may finally be able to bring them into the fold in this way.

3. Grocery Store Cards

Sometimes a grocery store will offer donations much like Amazon does. City Market is a great example of this. Shoppers simply register their Value Card to earn a donation to their charity of choice. Again, it's not a huge donation, but we all gotta eat and if City Market is giving away money to charity, why shouldn't yours get a piece of the pie? Register your card (or sign up if you're a registered 501 C(3) looking to apply for funds) for their Community Rewards Program. Not a City Market shopper? Check with your favorite grocer for a similar program.

4. GoodShop & GoodSearch

This one is as easy as surfing the Web. For every search you do through, your chosen charity gets one penny. How often are you looking for local resources, businesses, products, or information? It's a search engine, just like Google is, but each search gets your charity a cent. You have to go through their registration process before you start searching, but then you're good to go. (Again, if your favorite pet project isn't signed up, let them know about this great way to get more revenue!) works the same way as Amazon Smiles. You search for the product you want through their site and they donate to the charity of your choosing. Added bonus: they have a lot of coupons on items you might be interested in!

5. Donate your stuff or make thrifty purchases

Places like Habitat For Humanity, the Salvation Army, and Goodwill are always taking donations of good used items that are no longer needed. When their retail stores are filled with donated goods, they're almost certain to make a profit because they didn't pay to get the merchandise, they just have to sort, clean, and merchandise it. Often the staffers who process the donations are volunteers, so the overhead is even lower. Make sure you get a receipt for your donation of old items that are cluttering up your closet and it may help lower your taxes.

If you're in the market for new clothes, furniture, soft furnishings, building supplies, electronics, etc. then start your search at one of these worthy charities' stores. They offer great prices, you're supporting their mission, protecting your pocketbook, getting things you need, and you might just find a real treasure while you're searching through their shelves.

6. Support those who support others

Here's one we love, but it doesn't always line up with your purchasing patterns. When a company likes the work of a non-profit, sometimes they'll offer a donation for each item purchased. For example, the Pen Company of America manufactures the RevMark Permanent Marker. This awesome pen (we love using them!) is useful for lots of things: home improvement projects, construction work, signing autographs, etc. It has a holster that makes it easy to recap, writes great, and has an strong nib that doesn't seem to get chewed up by wood, concrete, drywall, etc. It's ideal for those superstars working in skilled trades (and those superstars on the stage).

The Pen Company of America was attracted to the MikeRoweWorks Foundation. It's a great organization founded by Dirty Jobs presenter Mike Rowe. He's dedicated to closing the skills gap by offering scholarships to those who want to learn a skilled trade. As the Pen Company of America sells its products to not only home improvers but also those in the skilled trades, it seemed like a great match to them. They offered (and still are, as of this writing) to make a 10% donation to the MikeRoweWORKS Foundation when their pen was purchased using promo code Mike10.

If you needed a great permanent marker, and you liked the work Mike is trying to accomplish, then everybody won with this deal. Check to see if the manufacturers of your favorite goods are supporting your favorite charities. If they aren't, it can't hurt to suggest that they look into it.

As an aside, Mike posted a hilarious video at the end of last year on this very subject - charitable giving. As ever, his common sense shines through... don't give cash if you just can't. Take care of yourself and your family first.

Have a favorite way to save cash while still giving back/supporting your favorite charity? Leave us a comment below!

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