10 Innovative Ways to Make a Difference in 2014

ByAlana Ramo

Pull out your sticky notes, journals, or iPhone app, the time for yearly resolutions is upon us! Promises to hit the gym, learn a new language and travel to far away places for 2014 have likely been filling up your list of to-dos.

It may not be on your radar yet, but donating to a good cause is one resolution that could be your best one yet. In fact, studies have shown that altruism produces oxytocin, the chemical similar to endorphins that promotes happiness and well being, contributing to your mental health in much the same way as a great workout.

Also, it doesn't have to break the bank. According to the Millennial Impact report, 83 percent of Millennials made a financial gift in 2012. Nearly 40 percent of respondents gave amounts between $1-50, and another 23 percent gave between $51-100.

Blackbaud recently released a generational study that found that Gen Y represents 11 percent of total annual giving in 2012 compared to 20 percent by Gen X and 43 percent from the Baby Boomers. Wouldn’t it be great if we decided our collective resolution is to beat the Baby Boomers at the giving game this year ... by showing up in force?

To help you get started, here are 10 great ways to give back all year long. Pick one or all 10 to try and it just might be the best resolution(s) you make this year. 

1. Donate online

Online donation platforms, such as Network for Good, Global Giving and Razoo enable you to donate any amount to millions of different nonprofits and causes online with a simple click of a button.

2. Volunteer your time

Volunteers contributed 12.7 billion hours of service in 2012, which is worth an estimated $260 billion. Volunteer Match, Idealist and Serve.Gov are three online portals listing thousands of opportunities across the country. 

3. Shop for a cause

Companies like TOMS, EcoVessel, Tory Burch, Warby Parker and FEED give a percentage of your purchase to help others in need. Buy something you want and the affiliated nonprofits benefit.

4. Join a giving circle

Giving circles are groups of individuals just like you who want to combine their dollars and work together to decide how best to direct the donations. Each circle seeks to make a bigger impact by aggregating their dollars. Check out organizations like The One Percent Foundation to find a giving circle that matches your interests.

5. Download an app

A host of new apps help to integrate giving into your daily life. Here are three great examples: (1) Earn money for nonprofits when you walk, bike or run with Charity Miles, (2) Donate a photo through Johnson & Johnson’s new app and the company will donate $1 to nonprofit organizations, or (3) Save money on daily items and help change the world a few dollars at a time with the Instead app. 

6. Invest for impact

There are a few ways you can invest your dollars online in much the same way as a venture capitalist. Kiva is one such platform where anyone can provide a “loan” to invest in entrepreneurs alleviating poverty around the world at a 99% repayment rate. The Calvert Foundation is another option with the Community Investment Note, which earns a financial return while economically empowering communities worldwide. Since 1995, more than 13,000 people have invested in the Foundation’s Community Investment Note.

7. Matchmaking for good

As a donor you can give directly to a specific person with a specific need. Benevolent is one such organization that lists requests from people with validated needs like a laptop for school or a suit for a job interview. Another platform, Donors Choose allows teachers from schools across the country to ask for the supplies their classrooms really need, which anyone can help fulfill. 

8. Use your powers for good

More than 500 companies have pledged $2 billion in pro bono services to nonprofits through the national A Billion + Change campaign. Check out A Billion + Change and donate your skills through other organizations championing pro bono like Catchafire or the Taproot Foundation.

9. Start your own campaign

Crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter, Indiegogo and Crowdrise have grown in popularity over the last several years and helped countless causes. Consider setting up your own campaign for your favorite nonprofit or cause and rally your networks to give. 

10. Make a plan

Need a “set it and forget it” way to keep doing good throughout the year? Most nonprofits now offer a monthly donation plan so you can set up a dollar amount to automatically donate at a frequency you choose. This year, why not give incrementally for a big yearly impact? 

Bonus: Earning some happy hormones is awesome, but it’s also great to know you can deduct your donation. The average American gives 4.7% of their income to charities reaping several tax benefits. You can learn more about giving back all year at The Case Foundation.