Giving Back Without Going Broke

‘Tis the season of winter holidays and year-end giving campaigns. Along with the frigid temperatures, there’s a tangible spirit of goodwill and generosity in the air. While many of us work to fundraise for our own organizations, we’re also inspired to give back and support a wide breadth of worthy causes this season. But, when you live on a nonprofit income, it’s not always easy to make the pieces fit.

Luckily, with a little creativity, you can give back in major ways this year without breaking the bank.

Non-Monetary Donations

There are many ways to donate that don’t involve a monetary gift. The colder months shine a light on issues such as hunger and homelessness that affect the community year-round, and there are a multitude of organizations that can benefit from your in-kind donations.

The Emergency Foodshelf NetworkSecond Harvest Heartland and countless other food banks accept edible donations that support those struggling with hunger. Check your supermarket for a donation box, or organize a food drive in your office or neighborhood.

There’s no better way to give of yourself, literally, than to donate blood. Blood donations to the American Red Cross or Memorial Blood Centerscan benefit children and adults facing a wide range of conditions. And speaking of children, consider donating toys to Toys for TotsKeystone Community Services or another organization that provides holiday gifts to families in need.

If you knit or sew, you can use your skills to create gifts or donations that will benefit their recipients in the cold months ahead. Hats for the Homeless has been collecting handmade hats since 2009 to distribute to shelters and service organizations across the Twin Cities. Visit the blog to join a group knitting event, or gather a group of your friends to create your donations together.

Get creative! There’s no limit to the things you can make or give that will benefit those in need.


A simple and cost-free way to give back this season (and year-round) is to volunteer your time. There are many organizations that are especially in need of volunteers during the winter and holiday months.

The food banks mentioned above need volunteers to package and sort food donations. You can also volunteer to serve food or deliver meals to the elderly, ill or less fortunate through Meals on WheelsOpen Arms of Minnesota or local meal centers.

Other organizations such as Arc’s Value Village (a division of Arc Greater Twin Cities), Community Emergency Assistance Program and countless others need extra volunteers to support their holiday and seasonal efforts. Check out Hands On Twin Cities’ Holiday Volunteer Guide for a directory of ideas to get started.

To multiply your efforts, propose an office-wide day of volunteering, or encourage friends and family to join you.

Multiply your gift

If you do choose to make monetary donations this year, there are several things you can do to multiply your gift and/or make it easier on your budget.

A simple way to contribute year-round is to arrange a payroll donation. Designate an amount of money to be withheld from each paycheck and given to the organization of your choice. You’ll find it’s a lot easier to live without that money if it never hits your bank account. Many employers also offer matching gifts, which can multiply the amount of your financial contribution. Check with your HR representative to see if your employer will match your charitable gift.

You can also challenge your friends and family to create a group donation fund. Small contributions can really add up when multiplied over a large group of people. Challenge 20 people to donate $5, and you’ve gathered a $100 donation.

Another way to maximize your impact is to donate to a microloan program such as Kiva or Accion. These programs allow you to give small loans to people around the world to build their businesses or support their communities. Some return the money to you upon successful completion of the project, allowing you to continually reinvest the funds in new projects. Similarly, programs such as Heifer International use your donations to provide livestock to developing communities, creating sustainable and lasting value.

Regardless of your income level, there are countless ways to support local and global communities this holiday season that don’t have to break the bank. How do you contribute?

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