Crisp, cool temps and the return of pumpkin-spice everything mean one thing is for sure: The gifting season’s almost upon us. While that means lots of trips to the mall and scooping up stuff for friends and family, it’s also the perfect time to give to people in need. And though you can obviously do that by handing over some dough, there are also tons of creative, hands-on ways to pay it forward. The best part: They don’t involve touching your checkbook or donating through some online portal.
Here are 41 awesome ways to help charities, organizations, and brands make the world a better place.
Things to Do
1. Find a cause you care about.
Sometimes it can be challenging to find a cause you care about that’s also close to home. That’s where Volunteer Match comes in—it’s like an job search site for volunteers, with more than 100,000 participating charities. Whether you’re looking to work with kids, support the arts, or help the elderly, sign up and get in touch with a nearby nonprofit that needs your help.
2. Cook for those in need.
Know your way around the kitchen? Consider cooking up meals (and plenty of good vibes in the process) at God’s Love We Deliver. The organization’s goal is to provide nourishing food for people who aren’t able to shop or cook for themselves because of an illness or other disability. And if cooking isn’t your jam, you can deliver meals, assemble the meal kits, or work in the office. Though this organization is based in New York City, soup kitchens around the country offer similar volunteer opportunities.
3. Give blood.
People often say that volunteering is really like sharing a part of yourself, and in this case, they mean that quite literally. The American Red Cross welcomes blood donors, and each donation truly does make a difference—just one pint of donated blood can save up to three lives. And if you’re terrified of needles (or aren’t eligible to donate), you can volunteer your time instead.
4. Mentor a high schooler.
Minds Matter is a three-year program that pairs adult tutors and mentors with high school sophomores or juniors from low-income families. You’ll not only assist the students throughout the entire exciting (yet confusing) college application process, but also help them to succeed once they’re there. Volunteer to become a team leader, writing coach, SAT tutor, or critical thinking advisor, among other options. The nonprofit was founded in New York City, but it’s expanded to 12 cities across the country, so see if there’s a chapter near you.
5. Play with kittens.
Furry friends (and their caretakers) need help too! The Humane Society and local animal shelters across the U.S. have a bunch of volunteer opportunities. You can walk dogs, care for kitties, and ultimately make a difference in many animals’ lives. Reach out to a shelter near you to find out what kind of help that particular location might need.
6. Assist seniors in need.
Older folks tend to get left out of typical give-back opportunities, but let’s not forget about them. Create a volunteer account on Elder Helpers and choose what kind of help you’re up for offering—everyday tasks as simple as grocery shopping, cleaning, or lending a helping hand in the kitchen can be a huge support for homebound seniors.
7. Lift a soldier’s spirits.
All it takes is a pen, paper, and a little bit of your time. Operation Gratitude is a nonprofit that not only sends care packages to military personnel stationed away from home but also encourages anyone who can to write a simple letter thanking these men and women for their service. Check out a few helpful guidelines here, take a few minutes to compose your prose, and send it off to the organization.
8. Help build a house.
Habitat for Humanity’s main goal: making sure people have safe, decent places to live. Play an active part in this by volunteering for any of their numerous programs, all of which aid in building housing in the U.S. and all around the world. You can also donate things like furniture and appliances; the nonprofit sells these items to raise funds to help build homes.
9. Share your skills.
Think of Catchafire like a matchmaker, but instead of setting you up with dates, it’ll hook you up with volunteer opportunities that match your skillset and interests. Just create a profile (nonprofits want to know about you too!), check out their Open Projects page, apply for the one you like, and wait to hear if you’re accepted. The whole system is seamless and transparent: You can see exactly how much time you’ll put in per project—and most are online-only (i.e. can be completed from your couch). How easy is that?
10. Run to raise money.
Whether you’re looking to go the distance or cover a single mile, there’s bound to be a charitable race or walk in your area. Consider Run10Feed10, which gives 10 meals to people in need in your local community for each person who runs the 10K race. Other options include the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure to raise money for breast cancer research or the Jingle Bell Run/Walk, which benefits arthritis research. And even your standard Saturday morning jog can help you give back, thanks to the Charity Miles app. It lets you turn your biking, running, and walking into opportunities to donate some cash: The farther you go, the more money you earn for your charity. Now that’s incentive to keep on keepin’ on.
11. Adopt a wild animal.
If getting a pet isn’t in your immediate life plan, here's a much less demanding option. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) offers adoption kits for a bunch of endangered wild animal species, including tigers, pandas, snowy owls, pygmy elephants (suggestion: Google these immediately), and many more. Each kit contains a stuffed animal, an adoption certificate, info on the species, a photo, and gift bag—and all proceeds help protect the animals and their habitats.
12. Become an organ donor.
Saving a life (or eight!) can be as easy as filling out an online form. All you have to do is register to become an organ and tissue donor with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It takes a matter of seconds to do so, and you'll become a source of hope for the 122,692 people in the U.S. currently in need of an organ transplant.
13. Light up a child's life.
The name alone makes us smile, but the ways Project Sunshine helps children in need is beyond awesome. Volunteers at the nonprofit organization provide free programs (arts and crafts, tutoring, mentoring, and more) to children living with medical challenges and their families. Join more than 150,000 volunteers in 175 cities who help brighten up kids' lives each day.
14. Get Fido involved.
If you’re the proud owner of a kind and caring canine, think about volunteering your dog to become a therapy dog. Once you’ve both been trained and certified through a therapy dog organization, you’ll be able to bring joy to people in different settings, from hospitals to nursing homes. After all, you know first-hand how awesome it is being around your dog, so just imagine how he or she could improve other peoples’ lives too.
15. Coach young runners.
Who run the world? GIRLS! (Bey said it best, as usual.) Girls on the Run is a nonprofit that means it quite literally: When you volunteer for this organization, you’re signing up to coach a group of girls through a 10- to 12-week program that includes plenty of physical activity. The goal: empowering them to be healthy, confident, and community-driven. You’ll run with them, help them work on a community service project, and act as a role model, coach, and friend.
16. Horse around.
Horseback riding doesn't exactly jump to mind when you think of a therapy program, but it can actually do a lot of good for people with special needs by helping to strengthen muscles and improve flexibility and balance. That’s why equine therapy centers exist—to give the people who need it the chance to ride in the safest way possible. You can volunteer your time to help care for the horses, maintain the stables, and more. If you have riding experience or just love being around horses, check out PATH (the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International) to find a center near you.
Brands to Buy
Embracing your inner English major is cooler and better than ever thanks to Out of Print. The company’s merchandise, which includes everything from comfy t-shirts to totes to notebooks, features cover art of books, usually rare, old, or—you guessed it!—out of print. For each and every product you buy on their site, the company promotes reading by donating one book to a community in need.
Talk about putting your online shopping habit to good use. Just register, choose your cause (they’ve got thousands of great options, like UNICEF and the World Wide Fund for Nature), and then shop via the site. GoodSearch then donates a percentage of each purchase to your cause. Bonus: It sets you up with some awesome deals and coupons, so you’re saving money and saving the world, one shopping spree at a time.
Look good, do good: That’s the name of the game with these chic and shiny Michael Kors watches. Every watch sold ensures that 100 children receive a nutritious meal—the brand donates a portion of the profits to the World Food Programme to make this possible. Telling time has never felt so good.
Ever miss stocking up on school supplies, grade-school style? We definitely do. Fortunately, there’s a reason to start it up again. For every Yoobi item (think pens, notebooks, staplers, and more) you buy, the company will donate another item to a classroom in the U.S. that needs it. So you’re getting—and giving—cute and useful stuff. We call that a win-win.
This brand does it all for the kids. Not only does each graphic t-shirt feature a design created by kids from community centers, but the company also gives 100 percent of net profits toward supporting arts programs at community centers throughout the U.S. Plus, each shirt comes with a tracking number you can plug in online to see exactly where and how your purchase has made a difference.
These gluten-free snack bars satisfy hunger on a whole new level. Each bar (or cute t-shirt or bag) you buy makes it possible for the company and its nonprofit partners (like Action Against Hunger, Save the Children, and more) to give one packet of food to a child in need. And with flavors like dark chocolate cherry and sea salt or wild blueberry pistachio, your cravings will be squashed in the most delicious way.
The way this company works is pretty simple: You buy a high-quality, classic canvas bag, and a child in need receives a year of schooling. Esperos donates 10 percent of its profits to The Nobelity Project, a nonprofit that helps fund education for children in Kenya. And with unique, hand-crafted bags and backpacks that last for years, you know you’re making a good investment for yourself and for others.
Being bespectacled has never looked better—or done more for the world. The stylish eyewear company tallies up how many frames were sold each month, then makes a donation to a nonprofit partner that trains men and women in developing countries to give basic eye exams and sell glasses at super affordable prices. Plus, before you buy, you can order several frames to try out at home, so you know you’ll look great when your Rx glasses arrive.
Backpacks that give back: That's this company’s M.O. For every cute and colorful backpack sold, STATE fills up a backpack with essentials and then delivers the bag to an American kid in need. And that's when the real magic happens: The company’s team members who deliver the bags (and are also childhood development specialists) lead rallies that motivate the kids and encourage them to have a positive impact on their community.
We’re completely digging the entire concept behind Better World Books. The booksellers raise funds for literacy and education projects and donate one book to someone in need for every book bought. And considering that it’s donated more than 17 million books and raised more than 20 million dollars for libraries and literacy (so far), it’s safe to say that bookworms are one giving bunch.
If you feel like you've seen this brand everywhere, that’s a good thing! The brand has expanded beyond just shoes and now offers eyewear, bags, apparel, accessories, and more for sale. And each TOMS product you purchase has another purpose: making sure people in need have access to certain essentials, like new shoes, clean water, eyeglasses, and even safe childbirths.
Next time you rock a tote, hat, necklace, wallet, or scarf, or any other cute product emblazoned with the recognizable FEED logo, you’ll not only be making a fashion statement but also fighting hunger. This all-around awesome brand not only provides school meals for kids around the world through its nonprofit partners, including UNICEF and Feeding America, but it also uses environmentally friendly materials and makes sure that all its products are made under fair labor conditions.
Socks are one of those things you can never have too many of, right? Sadly, that’s not the case for some people. As it turns out, socks are the most-requested item of clothing at homeless shelters, according to Bombas, a company that sells super-comfy athletic socks. Sure, their product rocks, but what we love most is that the company donates a new pair of socks to someone in need for every pair purchased on their site.
By now we hope you know that using plastic water bottles isn’t exactly good for the environment, so why not sip in (sustainable) style? The Dopper water bottle is easy to grab and go and reduce your plastic waste. The best part: Your purchase will also help bring clean drinking water to people in Nepal, as well as educate people about the impact of plastic waste on the environment.
This Los Angeles-based company engraves old, used keys with inspirational and meaningful words (such as courage, strength, or love) and turns them into gorgeous necklaces or bracelets. And the positive vibes you’ll spread are endless: The brand employs people transitioning out of homelessness to create the jewelry, and has created 30 jobs and been changing the lives of people in need since it was founded three years ago.
With handcrafted leather bags (the Mamuye Tote is perfection), chic jewelry, cozy scarfs, and more, FashionABLE makes shopping for a cause chic. But the backstory is even better: The company gives opportunity to women who’ve overcome challenges and setbacks (everything from addiction to depression to homelessness), creating jobs that'll enable these worthy women to start a new life and thrive.
The next time you need some yoga threads, consider completing your outfit with YOGASMOGA’s hand-woven bracelet. You’ll be supporting the weavers who make them by hand—the brand donates net proceeds of the bracelet’s sales to the Namaskar Foundation, which helps provide basic health care, education, and microloans to people in developing countries.
Now this is smart snacking. In the spirit of giving, the bar company partnered with the nonprofit Protect Our Winters (POW) to help educate the winter sports world about how climate change affects cold-weather communities. CLIF Bar pledges to donate 1 percent of net sales from their seasonal bar flavors to POW. And for the record, the flavors we’re talking about—hot chocolate, iced gingerbread, and spiced pumpkin pie—are the bomb dot com. Grab ‘em before they’re gone.
Places to Donate
Looking to clean out your closet? Just request a donation bag: Fashion Project will cover the shipping, treat your stuff to a photo shoot, and then list it on their site to sell. Plus, the site’s a one-stop shop for a good cause. Shoppers can score name brand items (some of which are brand new) at discounted prices, and 55 percent of the proceeds go to support one of the charities that the site works with.
Attention all girl bosses: It’s time to part with the pantsuits and dressy blouses you never wear. By dropping off your gently used professional attire to a Dress for Success affiliate location, you’re directly helping disadvantaged women succeed in the workplace and become financially independent. The organization also gets major points for giving women career guidance and job training.
Become a real-life fairy godmother by helping Make-A-Wish grant wishes for children fighting serious, life-threatening medical conditions. The nonprofit has tons of ways you can help—it accepts airline miles and hotel loyalty points (which help grant the kids’ travel wishes), partners with eBay so you can donate a portion of your sales to Make-A-Wish, and more. Plus, it welcomes volunteers via each of its local chapters—just take a look at the one near you for more info.
Fight domestic violence and save the environment with one simple action: donating your old tech toys—from cell phones to laptops to digital cameras. The organization will either refurbish the item and resell it (raising funds for its anti-domestic violence programs) or simply recycle it.
No one could have said it better than Dr. Seuss: “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” On board with the read-more message? Donate gently used books or your time to this organization, which partners with doctors to encourage parents to read out loud to their kids by gifting a book to a child at each of his or her regular checkups until the age of five.
Those old, worn-down kicks gathering dust in your closet or under your bed? Give ‘em to Nike—the athletic wear powerhouse tears them up and turns them into tracks, playgrounds, outdoor courts, and more places to play. More than 28 million pairs of shoes have been shredded to date, covering a surface area almost equal to that of Manhattan.
Another opportunity to pare down your shoe collection: This nonprofit enterprise welcomes gently worn shoes and distributes them to people in need from all over the world. To date, it’s donated a whopping 26 million pairs of new shoes—a pretty major accomplishment, if you ask us. Take it a step further by also donating clothing to its program Clothes4Souls.