How to Give Back When You Don’t Have Any Money

Whether you're a broke freelancer or a successful startup founder, there's a lot to be said for paying it forward. Lots of Americans give to charities and nonprofits each year; in 2016, donations topped $390 billion. But when your own funds are tight, it may seem like giving back is out of your means. It's not — especially when you remember that money isn't everything.

Of course, organizations that rely on donations always appreciate money. But you can do a lot of good with in-kind or service donations. Short-staffed and underfunded organizations certainly won't turn away volunteers (time is money, after all), but that's not the full extent of how you can help.

Consider offering the services you make your money from, whether they're graphic design, accounting, or HVAC repair. When you go through your personal supplies, particularly things like gently used art supplies or small appliances, ask whether your favorite NPO might need them, whether for their work or their office. You can even "adopt" an organization and highlight it throughout the year for things like birthday fundraising on Facebook.

If you're not certain about how to proceed, there's definitely someone at your favorite organization who's in charge of shepherding this kind of support. And if you're asking yourself how the new federal tax law will affect your giving, that may still be to come. In the past, deducting in-kind and service donations for charity has been time-consuming but manageable. You'll have to itemize your donations and provide receipts and documentation, but given how much you'll be helping others, the task is well worth the trouble.