Charitable giving and volunteering are priorities for people from all walks of life. According to Gallup, an impressive 81 percent of Americans donated to charities in 2021, while 56 percent volunteered their time.
Simply put, it feels good to help others — and supporting a nonprofit organization is one of the best ways to accomplish this. Sometimes, however, this can feel overwhelming. According to the National Center for Charitable Statistics (NCCS), more than 1.8 million nonprofit organizations are registered in the U.S. This number includes public charities, private foundations, and other types of nonprofit organizations, including chambers of commerce, fraternal organizations and civic leagues. .
Don’t let an inability to help everyone keep you from doing your part. You have the power to make a discernible difference, whether by lending a few hours of your time or making small donations. Below, we’ll help you how to determine a nonprofit worth supporting and how you can have the most significant impact:
What Cause Is Important to You?
Name a cause, and you’ll find dozens, even hundreds, of relevant nonprofits in need of support. These organizations are constantly in search of new donors and volunteers.
Of course, you’d love to dive in with several focus areas — but your budget can only go so far. Instead, target your efforts on a few key organizations that reflect your interests or experience.
Need some inspiration? The following are among the most compelling causes:
There are many ways to improve the lives of both domesticated and wild animals. These creatures have been harmed not only through the neglect of individual humans, but also by pollution and other collective concerns.
Still, local shelters may be the first organizations that come to mind if you’re eager to help animals. Offering much-needed care for at-risk dogs and cats, these havens provide many opportunities to lend a helping hand. You’re welcome to volunteer by walking dogs or cleaning their kennels. Financial support is always appreciated, as are donations such as cleaning supplies, pet beds, and even shredded paper.
Don’t forget the value of fostering or adopting pets from shelters. This is one of the most impactful and personally beneficial contributions you can make.
Other organizations may require help with preserving natural environments or saving endangered species. These non-profits often encourage eco-conscious decisions in our daily lives, but also appreciate financial contributions and digital advocacy.
If you or a loved one has battled cancer, you understand how devastating it can be. While research has revealed many life-saving treatments, we’re still far from finding a cure for the most aggressive forms of cancer. By supporting cancer-oriented nonprofits, you can be part of the solution. Your contributions could help move us towards a long-elusive cure or, at least, more effective measures for making current patients more comfortable.
To that end, you can provide immediate support for suffering patients in your community. Neighborhood support groups offer a vital source of emotional solace for patients who often feel misunderstood. These charities rely on financial support from caring community members.
If you choose to contribute, check with each charity to verify policies. Despite misconceptions from well-meaning supporters, many cancer organizations do not accept wigs, hats, or prosthetics.
A variety of organizations have made it their mission to combat climate change. Their goals vary; some strive to shape legislation, while others focus on improving awareness and encouraging the public to adopt more eco-conscious habits. Both types of organizations require financial support.
Many non-profits support environmental goals that are not exclusively dedicated to fighting climate change. For example, transit advocates play a crucial role in developing greener transportation solutions that limit our reliance on motor vehicles. Meanwhile, pro-vegan charities address the impact of the agricultural industry on the planet, making them an excellent solution if you want to do your part for animal welfare and Mother Nature.
When you read headlines about devastating disasters and all the people they displace, you feel compelled to help. Many organizations draw on the collective contributions of caring individuals such as yourself, helping to rescue, treat, and house those in harm’s way.
This category can go hand-in-hand with the climate change efforts described above. After all, a growing body of research indicates that the increase in the frequency of hurricanes, tornadoes, and even wildfires is fueled by climate change.
Environmental organizations take a proactive approach to limit the impact of human activities on our ecosystem. With disaster response, however, the focus is on what happens after a catastrophe — no matter its purported cause or contributing factors.
This is a powerful opportunity not only for donating and volunteering. By providing shelter, food, and comfort, you can be a source of hope during a difficult time.
After years of sacrifice, our veterans are often left to suffer from various mental health concerns and excruciatingly painful physical maladies. Many veterans’ charities are committed to helping our nation’s bravest citizens, but most are in dire need of financial support. These charities focus on concerns that make it difficult for veterans to thrive as civilians, such as chronic injuries, homelessness, and lack of education or vocational training.
If you adore kids and want to nurture your inner child, there’s no better way to make a difference than by helping today’s schools or youth-oriented organizations. This is one of your best chances to make your mark in underserved communities, where children all too often find themselves trapped in cycles of poverty or suffering.
The best opportunities to give back often begin with your community’s schools and districts. There could be many struggling children in your hometown. From hosting school supply drives to volunteering as a tutor, you can break down many of the most persistent barriers these children face. There are also organizations that empower students through scholarship programs.
How Do You Want to Make an Impact?
Identifying your passion project is only the beginning. Now, you need to examine the size and scope of the most intriguing nonprofits. Charities of all types require support, but you may have personal preferences regarding your willingness (or ability) to serve at the regional, national, or even global level.
Often, the nonprofits most in need of a boost are based in your hometown. These organizations may only serve a few dozen people, but their targeted services are no less necessary.
The most apparent advantage of this approach is that it allows you to see your efforts play out in your community. You’ll have a better sense of whether the organizations you support actually make a discernible difference.
In most cases, however, the impact on legislative efforts will be minimal. Local charities are sometimes more difficult to vet, so extra peace of mind may accompany donations to nationally-recognized organizations.
National organizations have a far broader reach than their regional counterparts. While it’s easy to assume that these nonprofits already enjoy plenty of support from major donors, they typically rely on small contributions from ordinary individuals. Many maintain local chapters, providing the best of both worlds for your charitable efforts: the confidence of strong oversight and the ability to give back to your community.
Millions worldwide struggle to survive on less than $2 per day. These people are in dire need of support, yet many potential donors are unwilling to give because they don’t see this struggle firsthand.
Advocates for global giving argue that, under this approach, each dollar goes a lot further. For those living in impoverished regions, a mere dollar can make a world of difference.
Global giving also addresses the significant gap in international aid, which makes up a negligible portion of the federal budget. Philanthropy also serves to address global issues that extend beyond the US. This can be a powerful reminder of our human condition and the need for cross-cultural connections.
Research the Organization Before Donating
Before you contribute your time or money to a particular nonprofit, it’s crucial that you feel confident in the organization and its leadership. Unfortunately, not all nonprofits are well-run or even ethical. While most do excellent work, a small subset of problematic organizations doesn’t deserve your support.
When in doubt, seek insight from trusted sources that evaluate charities. The Federal Trade Commission recommends researching via CharityWatch, Charity Navigator, or the BBB Wise Giving Alliance before you donate to a nonprofit.
Ways to Donate
You’ve found the perfect organization to support — but now, you need to determine how you’ll make a difference. Everybody has distinct resources or talents to draw on. Top options include:
Often, the simplest and most convenient way to show support is to write a check. To make the most of your contribution, try to donate when businesses provide matches. This could double the impact of your donation, making a small contribution feel more impactful.
If you cannot provide financial support, don’t fret; you can also make a difference by volunteering your time or talent. As a volunteer, you can see your efforts play out in underserved communities, where you’ll build strong connections while supporting local causes. Many organizations also need clerical and administrative volunteers who help financial contributions go much further.
Combining elements of the two endeavors highlighted above, fundraising allows you to use creative solutions to generate funds for the organizations you find compelling. Even if you’re not responsible for planning or throwing fundraisers, you can do your part simply by attending them or getting the word out.
Make a Difference by Working in the Nonprofit Sector
Donating to nonprofits and volunteering are just a couple of ways you can make a difference in your community and beyond. If you’d like to make an even more significant impact, consider entering the nonprofit sector professionally.