Even if You’re Broke, You Can Still Give Back — Here’s How


Let's settle this once and for all: Our generation is not the selfish, self-centered selfie-takers we keep reading about.

According to the 2014 Millennial Impact Report, the latest in a series of surveys of the young workforce conducted by Achieve and sponsored by the Case Foundation, 84% of the 2,500 surveyed made a charitable donation in 2014. Unlike previous generations, which preferred to donate through paycheck deductions, 78% of millennials surveyed opted to give on their own.

Our generation likes to do things differently, and that includes how we give. According to the report, we "engage with causes to help other people, not institutions" and "support issues rather than organizations."

But how do you get started? After shelling out for rent, student loan payments, and other fixed monthly expenses, it's hard to imagine having anything left over to donate. It's much easier to defer your generous impulses to an indefinite future, when you'll be more established and financially secure. Don't fall into that trap.

With that in mind — and with seasonal thoughts of peace and goodwill in the air — here are six ways to help you think about giving back while on a budget and how to make the most of what you do give during the holidays and the year ahead. 


1. Start at any level.

The Achieve/Case Foundation report also found that people in our generation "prefer to perform smaller actions before fully committing to a cause."

The mistaken idea that charitable giving needs to be a grand gesture at the end of each year can discourage anyone who wants to give back and is on a budget. Whatever you can give, just start giving. Small donations are a great way to establish the giving habit, and many charitable organizations actually prefer sustained, incremental giving throughout the year to an annual year-end gift or a one-time donation at a time of crisis.

One way to start really small is through MicroHero, an app that takes the concept of baby steps to an innovative extreme. Launched earlier this year, MicroHero leverages the value of your time and opinions by inviting you to take quick surveys in order to earn donations for your favorite charities. The donations are in penny increments, but you can scale them by rallying family and friends around your causes (more on that below). The surveys are fielded by companies conducting market research, which then donate to charities, such as World Wildlife Fund and charity: water, for each survey you complete. 

2. Give with a goal. 

"One of the first conversations I have with my clients is brainstorming a list of goals, and then prioritizing those goals based on what's most important right now," Eric Roberge, a certified financial planner and founder of Beyond Your Hammock, told Mic.

If you want to make giving back a regular activity, said Roberge, you need to treat it like any other goal you've set for yourself that carries a price tag. Just as you might commit a fixed amount of money each month to a gym membership or to save for a trip, think about the money you donate to a cause as one of the targets you've decided to pursue with some portion of your discretionary spending.  

The goal might be to give a percentage of your income — say, 2% of your net income or 3% of your disposable income. Whatever it is, once you've identified that goal and where it sits alongside your other expenses, Roberge said, you can be "clear and intentional about where the money's going."

3. Leverage your employer's generosity. 

While the Millennial Impact Report found that younger employees may be less likely than previous generations to funnel their charitable giving through their employers' corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs, many still do. The Next Generation of American Giving, from nonprofit technology provider Blackbaud, notes that 59% of millennials gave through their workplace. And if your employer is among the many that match the charitable contributions of its employees, why not leverage your company's enlightened commitment to giving back?

You can help facilitate CSR giving in your workplace with YourCause, a platform that helps companies connect their philanthropic employees with nonprofits in need.

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4. Roll deep. 

One of the best ways to amplify a modest contribution is to tap into your circles of friends with social fundraising and crowdfunding platforms.

Giving Circles Network and Giving Circles Fund encourage donors to form networks of like-minded individuals to leverage and scale charitable giving.

If you're up for fundraising, consider crowdfunding platforms like CrowdRise or Tilt to rally your family and friends' money around your cause — whether it's a marathon for charity or a symbolic wedding of fictional wizards.

Another way to transform small donations into immediate impact is Modest Needs, which enables donors to contribute to specific, situational requests for financial assistance, such as "Adjusting to Civilian Life: Army Veteran Father of 3 Needs Help with Car Payment" or "Mom Needs Electric Bill Help After Injury Caused Her to Miss Work."5. Gift your giving. 

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5. Gift your giving. 

When you don't have a lot to spend on gifts for your family and friends, the thought truly counts more than a book, a pair of socks, or any other token object you bought them. So give something truly thoughtful by turning your giving into a gift and making donations in their honor. New York Times columnist Nick Kristof's annual conscientious gift guide includes many suggestions for charities and NGOs whose work you can support. Pick one of these causes and then get your family or friends on board. Instead of spending a small sum on each of them, together you all can make a bigger donation to something you really care about.

Many of them quantify the exact impact you can make with donations of as little as $25 or less. For $25, the International Rescue Committee will provide a refuge with a solar-powered lamp. And if you can spare as little as $7, you can adopt a "HeroRat," trained to sniff out and help clear landmines 20 times faster than a human can.

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6. Give yourself. 

Among the trends that Achieve and the Case Foundation began to recognize in their four years of conducting the survey was the fact that young professionals "treat all their assets (time, money, network, etc.) as having equal value."

"When anyone — young or old — says they don't have the financial means now to give to charity I ask them to consider all their capital, not just their financial capital," Christen Graham, president of social-impact consulting firm Giving Strong, told Mic in an email. "Take stock of your whole self: Can you contribute your human capital (e.g. volunteering, joining a board), your reputational capital (e.g. offer positive testimonials for a cause, rallying family or friends to participate), your intellectual capital (pro-bono work contribution), etc.?"

The Achieve/Case Foundation report found that young professionals are donating their valuable time: 70% spent at least an hour volunteering for a cause and more than a third gave 11 hours or more. Some 77% said they'd be more likely to volunteer their time if they can apply their own expertise and skills to a cause.

"This kind of contribution allows the donor to learn more about the cause and, if she likes it, develop a true affinity and loyalty for it," Graham said. "That allows her to decline the noise of other requests...and discover more ways she can give."