How to Give Back When You’re Broke

“Every day is a bank account, and time is our currency. No one is rich, no one is poor, we’ve got 24 hours each.” — Christopher Rice

By Anna Durkin

When you’re barely scraping by as is, it’s hard to imagine giving what little money you have away. But, young people today donate in new and different ways compared to the generations before them. They’re going after the causes they support and finding ways to do more with less.

What’s changed?

We have different values and motivators than our parents and grandparents, and that’s reflected in how we give back. We are more likely to give our time than money, and consider those donations part of our lifestyle. Millennials donate to causes not people.

“This is due in large part to the financial environment most millennials live in today.” (Forbes)

Plus, the ability to instantly communicate and share the causes we believe in via our social networks gives us influential power unlike ever before. Armed with this type of power at our fingertips, we choose carefully when giving our resources. Echoing our consumer habits, young adults today prefer transparency, efficiency, and experience from the companies we engage with, and that extends to charity as well.

Choosing a cause that matters to you is the first step. Here are some suggestions based on the most common causes among millennials today:

Health Care


Watsi. Watsi is a digitally focused non-profit that aims to provide health care to those in need. The organization’s approach resembles that of GoFundMe page. Each patient has a profile created by a medical professional and is approved by Watsi. Donors also receive post-treatment information about the patient so that they can follow along with their patient’s medical journey. Overall, Watsi’sradically transparent” approach quells any concerns you may have about where your money is going while also serving up some warm and fuzzies with its 100% guarantee that donations fund care.


Local Hospital or Clinic. Research hospitals and clinics in the surrounding area for volunteer opportunities. Consider your strengths: do you enjoy working with kids? Do you have a background in clerical work? Many medical facilities are searching for soup-to-nuts volunteers and may even allow room for creativity in terms of offering your volunteer services. So, join a Community Advisory Board, put on a weekly puppet show for sick children, or foster your own miracle for someone in need.

Animal Care


Best Friends Animal Society. While most are familiar with the flashes of puppy pouts and evocative stylings of Sarah McLachlan, ASPCA is one of many non-profit organizations that are fighting the battle against animal abuse and neglect. Best Friends Animal Society operates the nation’s largest sanctuary for homeless animals, offers a “Sponsor a Sanctuary animal” program, and hosts annual fundraisers, such as the “Strut Your Mutt” event. So, if you’re the poor sap that couldn’t make it through “A Dog’s Purpose” without disturbing surrounding moviegoers, this is the donation route for you.


Local Shelter or Adoption Center. Even Daddy Warbucks had a soft spot for Annie’s stray pal, Sandy. Take a page out of his book and show some love for the strays and rescues living in a local shelter or adoption center. In Brooklyn, BARC Shelter offers highly coveted volunteer dog walking hours and cat loft volunteering, creating the perfect opportunity for their rescues (and the locals) to be properly socialized.



The #HopefulHippies Campaign. Founded by the one-and-only Miley Cyrus, Happy Hippies is a non-profit organization that aims to rally against the social injustices faced by many young people within the homeless and LGBTQ communities. One of the organizations’ many causes is to assist in the funding of student projects. With nearly $12,000 raised so far, the #HopefulHippies campaign is working to provide books for an independent reading project in Illinois, quality shoes for a high school V-ball team in Kansas, and butane gas burners for a chemistry class in New Jersey, among other causes. If you’re someone that worries about where your money is going, pick your own #HopefulHippies cause and push those woes aside.


Computer literacy tutoring via local human services organization. In this day and age, technological savvy is more coveted than ever. While Google surfing, spreadsheet building, and 75 WPM-ing are the bread, butter, and jelly of Generation Y’s day-to-day, this isn’t the case for everyone. Adult immigrants are a group largely in need. Many organizations, such as the Heartland Alliance for Human Needs & Human Rights based in Chicago, only requires that volunteers be at least 18 years old, possess basic computer skills, and complete a quick training. So kick those innate Word formatting and desktop organizational skills into high gear and support a more-than-worthy cause.

Use what you’ve got


Pass the Points. Put those forgotten frequent-flier miles or reward points to good use. Some credit cards, like Capital One, partner with charity experts Network For Good and GuideStar to provide a direct link to over one million charities through its “No Hassle Giving” program. Capital One even flips the transaction fee bill. Other cards, like American Express and Citi offer similar charitable options.


Reap the Rewards. If it wasn’t exciting enough that your virtual rewards could be redeemed as a charitable donation, Discover’sDiscover Giving” program offers CashBack Bonus for every dollar you donate. So, in other words, you’re earning more money to donate by donating. It’s a no-brainer, people.