How To Give To Charity Without Spending Money

If you want to help others but don’t want to part with your cash (or don’t have any to part with), volunteering is one of many things you can do. Lots of organisations doing great work are largely volunteer run, so by giving your time, energy and skills, you can make a big difference.

At its best, volunteering can make you feel like you’re helping to make the world a better place. Or it can be like a bad job, except without the paycheque to ease the sting. I’ve volunteered for over a dozen organisations – some great, others highly questionable – and from my experience, I’ve worked out some key tips to help you get started.

Find what’s right for you

There are thousands of charitable organisations you can volunteer for, so take some time to figure out what’s right for you. If you’re an introvert, perhaps you’d prefer to be behind the scenes rather than front-and-centre. Likewise, if you’ve already got a full schedule, signing up for a long-term commitment is a quick path to stress.

Don’t jump at the first opportunity you come across. Organisations like the Centre for Volunteering in NSW and Volunteering Victoria can help you find the right fit. Find a few that you’re interested in, and make a list of the pros and cons. Be realistic about factors like commute time – sure, you might love what this charity does, but are you really going to be willing to go all the way across town every weekend?

If you’re not willing to go anywhere, don’t let that stop you. Thanks to the wondrous internet, you can volunteer from the comfort of your own sofa. Find charitable projects that need skills like video-editing through Vollie. Too easy.

Do your research

The volunteer position you’ve settled on is the experience of a lifetime, according to the organisation’s website – but how do you really know? Before you get involved, do some independent investigation. Ask for the contact details of a couple of previous volunteers and talk to them about what they did and how the organisation runs. Or find someone who’s blogged about the experience online (somebody probably has).

Yes, this takes a little extra time and effort, but it might prevent you from signing up for something that’s going to have you feeling unhappy while you do it – and guilty if you back out.


Don’t let a bad experience shut you down

So you had a bad volunteering experience a few years back. Things were disorganised. Or your skills weren’t put to use. Or the coordinator was too demanding (like the one who accused me of not really wanting to help the kids because I was ‘only’ putting in 40 hours a week). The reality is that you’re likely going to be working with other volunteers who are just doing their best – which sometimes isn’t enough. But if you’ve had a bad experience or heard a horror story from a friend, it’s time to shake it off and get back out there. Maybe re-read that bit about research.

Take a volunteer holiday

Okay, this one does involve spending some cash, but you were going to spend that money on your holiday anyway, right? Instead of just taking a holiday, have a unique experience by getting involved in a local community and doing some good. This may even save you money. I lived in Peru for six months as a volunteer and spent far less than I would have if I’d just travelled around on my own. When I volunteered in Greece, I was paying $100 a week to live on a Mediterranean Island.

You could build a home for a family in Indonesia, help protect endangered marine life in Africa, or even plant trees in Tasmania. But this is where it’s especially important to do your research – otherwise you might find yourself cleaning up faeces at a wild bird refuge that has no hand soap, like I did.

Volunteer with a friend

Busy schedule? Welcome to life. Level up your calendar management by volunteering with a friend. You’ll get to spend quality time together while making a difference – double win. This might involve some compromise to make sure the situation works well for both of you – don’t push someone into a commitment they’re uncertain about, even if it would be more fun for you to have your BFF there. But play it right and you can have a memorable shared experience that’ll keep you close despite your hectic schedules.

Ashley Kalagian Blunt is a writer and stand-up comedian. She’s written for McSweeney’s, Kill Your Darlings and Griffith Review. Her current project is How To Be Australian, a memoir. She runs the comedy website Full of Donkey and tweets at @AKalagianBlunt.

Want to start saving?

Open a Westpac savings account to take control of your money.

Find Out More