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How to donate to causes you're passionate about on a tight budget

As protests for racial justice, natural disasters, a high-stakes presidential election, and a whole pandemic collide, you’ve probably encountered more donation requests than usual mid-social media scroll session. If you had a few extra zeroes in your bank account, you wouldn’t think twice about donating to the causes that speak to you. But especially in these financially precarious times, philanthropy may feel like an out-of-reach luxury. The good news is, you can still support the causes you’re passionate about on a tight budget. Here’s how to do so responsibly and creatively.

Do your homework to maximize your impact

“If you have a small amount of discretionary funds, you want to make sure your dollar is going to right place,” Lopez says. She suggests donating to local, grassroots organizations, which need your money more than big-name national organizations. Look for transparency, too. Make sure the organization has published a statement about the deployment of funds — that is, how it’ll spend your money — and updates donors about how they’ve spent their contributions so far.

Look into employer matching

Some companies have programs where they partly or completely match your donation, USA Today explains. Ask your employer if they have such a program in place, and if they don’t, meet with human resources about how to work with your company to set one up.

Give away excess stuff

If you want to give your life a KonMari makeover, donate the things that no longer spark joy to a nonprofit that accepts them, USA Today suggests. Lopez encourages donating coats and other cold weather items, especially as winter approaches. After all, “where are you going, anyway?”

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Donate your change

Lopez recommends signing up for a mobile app, like GiveTide or RoundUp App, that links to your credit or debit card, rounds up your purchases to the nearest dollar, and donates the change to a nonprofit of your choice. This way, "it's pennies on the dollar, so it doesn’t feel like as big a hit.”

Give back with your credit card rewards

If you have a rewards credit card, you’ll likely have the option of donating miles, cash back, or points to a cause you care about, per USA Today. For most credit card companies, it’s a matter of logging into your account, loading the page for managing your rewards, and picking a charity, Karen Hoxmeier, founder of MyBargainBuddy.com, told the outlet. If your credit card doesn’t have this program, see if you can get cash back for your rewards, which you can then donate.

Engage in the conversation

You don’t need to be swimming in cash to fight for racial justice, says Ariel Lopez, an entrepreneur and career coach whose services include covering personal finances. “You only have to use your voice. I think social media is by far the easiest way to get involved and be supportive without committing a dime.” Participate in protests, if you can. Having those difficult conversations with family members and friends about race "goes a long way, as well," she says. “It’s not enough to be an ally to your one Black friend.”

Listen in on conversations, too, says Lopez, who cites Twitter as her go-to news source. Even you don’t post a ton, you can use it to learn about causes that resonate with you and how to support them.

Remember that even a little can matter a lot

Charities need you to raise awareness about their cause, per Huffington Post. Greater awareness means more donors and, in turn, more leverage with policymakers, Jennifer Bernstein, managing director of development at the Natural Resources Defense Council, told HuffPo. Posting on social media about an organization (one you've researched to ensure it's legit), even if you can't afford to donate to it, can help in that regard.

And if you’re feeling down about not having the means to donate as much as you’d like, prioritize getting into a position where you have discretionary funds so you can be intentional about your financial support, Lopez says. “The best way to help other people is to help yourself.” Show the same compassion to yourself that moves you to support your favorite cause, and focus on what you can give right now. Whatever that looks like, it's enough.