Edit: Since this post is a little out of date now, be sure to click here to view more current opportunities. :)
Money vs compassion. Meeting your budget vs making a difference. Tight finances vs a generous heart. Unfortunately, it often feels like lack of funds equals lack of impact, even when you care deeply about issues involved and very much want to be a part of change and progress.
So what can we to do when money is tight but we still want to make a difference? Yes, time is the most generous gift of all, which makes volunteer efforts and opportunities huge... but what about in addition to that? I'll be making this a more regular posting topic in the future, but here are a few of the best I've found lately. Drumroll please!
Free Rice This hugely addictive "quiz" game has been a favorite of mine for a while. You can play with vocabulary, math and chemistry facts, geography, even art if you like, but regardless of which you choose each correct answer will result in 10 grains of rice being donated to the UN World Food program. I went over there just now to grab the link, and only managed to get off of the site 860 grains of rice later. Like I said... hugely addictive. The money for the rice is donated by the advertisers whose banners you'll see underneath the game play section... or if your computer screen is small like me, the banners you won't see underneath the game play section. It's a fun and simple way to make a contribution and brush up on material from college courses that are being forgotten all too quickly. My best level so far on English vocabulary is 48. What about you?? No cheating allowed!!
The Hunger Site. This site is similar to Free Rice just because the funds you're "donating" are provided by the sponsors whose ads are visible. Unlike Free Rice there's a daily limit on how much you can participate, but since all it takes is a click it's even more straight-forward. Make sure to tab through the list of charities at the top, so that you can make the most of your clicking. In the few seconds I was on the site, I donated .6 bowls of food to rescued animals, 1.1 cups of food to end hunger, and saved 11.4 square feet of rainforest, among other things. Slick, huh? ;P
Duracell: Hours of Power program. A click on the Duracell site will donate 100 hours of power (in the form of flashlights, batteries, generators, etc) to first responders in American cities troubled by weather related power outages. As a resident of a city that recently suffered a great deal with uncharacteristically bad rain and flooding issues, this one feels a little more pertinent to me all the sudden... I'm all about making sure that emergency personnel have sufficient resources to do their jobs well, and if a click will help that make that more possible, then I say click away!
Pantene: Beautiful Lengths program. Throughout the end of 2009, for each person who becomes a fan of Pantene on facebook, the company will donate .10 to their Beautiful Lengths program, which funds wigs for women who have lost their hair due to cancer. You can also donate hair through Beautiful Lengths (it takes six ponytails to make a wig!) just like you can through Locks of Love, a similar program aimed at providing wigs specifically to disadvantaged children who have lost their hair due to a medical condition. Both programs are awesome, highly personal ways to make a difference. I donated 10+ inches to Locks of Love myself about four years ago, and found the experience both meaningful and freeing... but if you aren't ready to cut all your hair off, or are inches away from even having that option, then becoming a facebook fan of Pantene is a very simple way to benefit a great cause.
Red Cross blood donation. This one isn't online of course, but since I was just discussing "highly personal" ways of making a difference, it still seemed like an important one to mention. Donating blood will cost you nothing but a half hour or so of your time, and can make a huge difference in the lives of up to 6 people. The need for blood donation is more pressing than you might think, as currently only 3 in 100 Americans give blood. To add to the urgency even further, check out the little "__ people have needed blood since you arrived at this site" counter at the bottom of the webpage. Um, just a leeeetle sobering.
Coffee-Mate: Make Every Cup Count program. Coffee-Mate has a great program currently to help women who are struggling in today's job market, with a goal to donate up to $150,000 to help them "dress for success" and prepare for their job search. Take a moment to stop by their site and write an encouraging note for one of the women participating in the program, and they'll donate another .50 towards that goal. They'll also give you a printable coupon for $1/1 Coffee-Mate creamer, which is a generous perk for you too!
Lunchables: Lunch Note Promise program. In return for a pledge to leave a surprise note in your child's lunch, Lunchables will donate a meal to a child in need through Feeding America. For some reason I think this is one of my favorite opportunities available right now... maybe because I remember how special I felt when I found notes from my mom in my lunch as a kid. You can also find fun lunch note downloads here as well, for a little added pizzaz.
One of the best parts of these sites and opportunities is that you can fit them into your busy schedule now. You can take advantage of them now, while eating lunch, or waiting for that slow site to load, or that person to email you back... and if you're lucky enough to own a smart phone you can use them while sitting on the train on the way to work, or in that waiting room, or wherever you have a moment. Am I saying that these sites can replace more traditional volunteer and donation opportunities? Not a chance. But these sites are an easy, affordable way to supplement your other giving, especially when funds or time are particularly tight at the moment... a state of things that many of us wish wasn't quite so common these days. Don't let your slim wallet keep you from helping out someone who has even less than you! Take advantage of every opportunity to give back. :) It definitely works for me, and I hope it does for you too!
This post is part of Works for Me Wednesday, over at We are THAT Family. Check out the site for lots more great thoughts and ideas!