Dec 14, 2015

My Favorite Ways to Donate

So I think I mentioned before that I don't really enjoy volunteering.  I feel like a jerk for even saying that, but frequently I find myself feeling sad and mad and guilty and that whole altruistic glow?  Nuh uh.  I don't get that.

It's almost the complete opposite.  I realize the depth of the problem, and I realize how little my petty contribution affects the outcome.  It's just an all around bummer and no matter how often I tell myself, "Doing something is better than nothing" I can't shake off those horrendously negative feelings.

It's not always deeper awareness of the problem.  Sometimes it's the experience itself.  For example, I did NOT like volunteering at the food bank, because when we did there was a large group of people who were forced to attend for work and they did not give a shit what went into those boxes.  They completely ignored the rules about trying to include different food groups, and now that I've seen with my own eyes that homeless people are being given 7 cans of spaghetti sauce and told to make meals for their families, I'm not exactly feeling the warm fuzzies about what the food bank can do.

I know I shouldn't let one bad group of people form my opinion of a charity.  After all, they weren't regular volunteers.  But the idea of going back just makes me cringe.

I also think, while time is always valuable, that we often don't give enough thought to where our money is going.  I know I talked about them already, but I'm going to again, because I think they're amazing.  The Center for High Impact Philanthropy does research on charities to compare how much value they're getting for that initial investment.

An example they gave at a TEDx Event I went to last year was the food bank.  You've probably donated to food drives before and the concept behind the event is great but... the price we pay for goods on our ends is way higher than what the food bank could buy in bulk if they had our money instead.  Plus, they have access to resources we don't - food that has been labeled incorrectly and that they can get for free, as long as they can pay for the transport.

Now the Center for High Impact Philanthropy is hardly the only place to do this.  When I told my mom about it, she said, "Oh, I just looked at what charities Bill and Melinda Gates donate to, because I know they did a lot of research on what most impacts society."  You can see their list of charities here, and, I'll admit, it's broken down a little more easily than the Center's, even though they're still my favorite.

That was one of the things on my mind when I chose what charity to donate to.  I don't have a ton of money and I don't have a ton of time, but I DO want to help in some small ways and ideally, for it to be as useful to others and as non-miserable to me as possible.  So here's how I give back to the community.

My Favorite Ways to Donate

1. Nurse Family Partnership

This was one of the programs that the Center's speaker specifically mentioned.  The idea is that help be provided to low-income, young mothers who might otherwise struggle with raising a child.  I LOVE this idea, because it's helping people who don't necessarily have any other resources AND it's helping at the root of the problem, as children are developing, rather than the symptoms after they've grown up.  The studies show improved child health, reduced neglect, mental illness, and crime (as the child grows up), and improved academic performance.  I donate monthly to this program

2. The Blood Bank

I LOVE donating blood.  Everything about it fascinates me.  Especially doing the apheresis machine - I get to watch my blood go out, plasma get pumped back in, and the tubes alternate between red and yellowish each time the machine reverses.  Even if it didn't, even if it was super gross, I still think it's a great way to give.  People need blood, around the clock, all throughout the year.  Add to that the cookies, how incredibly nice everyone is at our donation center, and the fact that they only need me a couple times every year and this is probably my favorite.  I have fun conversations with someone almost every time I go.

3. Goodwill

I'll admit I haven't done a ton of research here.  So I don't actually know how Goodwill compares to the Salvation Army or other donation sites.  But it's right next to my house, it's incredibly easy, and the people who take my stuff range from indifferent to quite pleasant, so I have yet to feel bad when I leave.  When you compare any portion of charitable donations that come from that, it's sooo much better than just throwing stuff in the trash.  AND someone else gets to buy your old stuff that you would have thrown away anyway for an affordable price.  If not Goodwill specifically, I highly advocate any secondhand store that'll take your stuff.  Let's ease up on the landfills, guys.

4. Floating $5

This one I like almost as much as my main charity.  I was struggling one day when someone asked for help for some random cause.  I wanted to give, but it went against my "high impact philanthropy" philosophy, and I can't afford to give to EVERYTHING.  Finally I decided $5 wasn't a big deal - I could easily afford it and it felt better than doing nothing.  I've continued with that mindset.  Originally it was supposed to be $5 a month to whatever cause called to me that month, but it's turned more into $5 whenever I happen to see one I really like.  Sometimes it's even kickstarters, but I like the idea that I CAN donate to anything that really calls to me without worrying about it hurting my finances.  And I don't have to agonize over the amount anymore, because it's pre-decided.

5. 5Ks and Races

At one point most 5Ks were for a charity and that was nice.  Now they're not, so you have to read a little more carefully.  I still do some races just because they seem really fun (Wipeout Run, Color Run, etc), BUT for the most part I try to pick ones that will go to a cause.  We just did the Reindeer Run earlier in the month (Special Olympics), and will probably do the Chocolate Lover's 5K on Valentine's Day (benefits Deltech, one of my alma maters), and the Back on My Feet 5-Miler (Back on My Feet) in the spring.

I was considering trying a new volunteering opportunity in the spring, when I'm freelancing and have flexible weekday hours.  I thought maybe I'd try dog walking at an animal shelter (we've cleaned cages and litter boxes in the past and liked that - especially when we got to play with tiny kittens) BUT now that I have a dog it might be too heartbreaking.  I like the idea of beach cleanups and Habitat for Humanity (although when my sisters and I tried that before they really didn't have any use for us as unskilled laborers and we ended up painting several coats on all the doors).

I was a peer mentor in high school and did Special Olympics bowling with my "mentees" and I LOVED that.  And then there's a part of me that wants to try something entirely new and ideally even related to my skillset - design, marketing, event organization, etc.  But I haven't yet found an option that I like with that.  So we'll see!

There are other things I'd like to do, too, when I have more money.  I've daydreamed about offering a scholarship from Jenn Wells Design but it's still a long ways off before I (or the business) can afford that.  And there's so, so many other charities.  I figure as I go through life and climb the metaphorical ladder, I can gradually up my monthly contributions, both to the partnership, and to new causes, probably based in education or job training.

As for now... well, I've got some 5Ks to sign up for and a blood donation after work today.

What are your favorite ways to donate?  Do you prefer to give time or money?

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  1. I do the Goodwill too, I know they have a great jobs program so my donations definitely help with that.

    K and I also do Toys for Tots, I think you can make a difference there with something small!

  2. I like giving items to Goodwill. Twice a year I host a food drive at a local bar and the bar gives people who give me cans $1 off cans of beer. I also donate time at the Humane Society by walking dogs and taking pictures for their site. I give $1 every time I buy something at Petsmart. And I have participated in Toys for Tots for many years.

  3. I donate to Goodwill but its more for my benefit because I wanted to get rid of my junk. I signed up for Amazon Smile you can pick where you want the money to go to. Mine is Bluegrass Shih Tzu rescue. It doesn't change what you pay for your items and the charity of choice still gets a percentage. That's probably the easiest way for me to give back.


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