8 Ways to Make a Real Difference in the World
Charitable giving is at an all-time high. Want to get involved? Here are eight great ways to make a difference.
You don’t need to have excess money to donate, or time to give; opportunities to engage in philanthropy are accessible and as varied as the people who take them on. In fact, while the Jewish value of tzedakah is commonly interpreted as a financial donation, the root of the word, tzedek, means righteousness, fairness, and justice. Before you get started, come back to the core meaning of tzedakah and commit to two guiding principles:
- Give because you mean it. Don’t give to causes that don’t inspire you. There are enough to go around! Listen to your instincts, find something that resonates, and engage with a cause you’ll care about long after your first donation.
- Support sustainable efforts. There are plenty of well-intentioned people looking to make a difference, especially if they’ve recently been inspired by a cause, but many others have been in the field, making progress for decades or longer. Find them, listen to them, and work alongside them.
An influx of donations or volunteers during a short window of time, like during the holiday season, can overwhelm charity organizations. Remember that these organizations’ work continues all year long, and while your support is valued on special days, your ongoing commitment can make a lasting impact.
With that, let’s get ready to make it happen!
Give your time, either outside of, or from the comfort of, your own home.
1. Volunteer in your community. Find a local organization that addresses an issue you feel passionately about. Give them a call and ask if they have a need for volunteers. Do they have a lot of volunteers signed up already? Ask if there’s a time when they’re short-staffed and could really use help.
- Bonus challenge: Can you take advantage of a partnership that already exists? Does your congregation, local Jewish Federation, or a local school have an ongoing relationship with an organization that you could take part in?
2. Volunteer in another city, state, or country. Leave your comfort zone and explore another community through the lens of social justice. There’s much to be gained by exposing yourself to new ideas, cultures, and perspectives. What might you want to learn to take back home?
- Bonus challenge: Authentic social justice travel can be difficult to distinguish from voluntourism. Ask questions of any trip organizer to make sure they support local, sustainable efforts, and that the service short-term volunteers provide is welcomed by and utilized effectively by the local community.
3. Make your voice heard in local, state, or federal government. With a quick phone call to your congressional representatives in the House and Senate, you can advocate for policies you believe in. Even if you’re not old enough to vote, you just need a phone and an extra two minutes. Staffers keep tally of which issues constituents call about, so they won’t ask you for details or argue with you – they’ll just mark down that you called.
- Bonus challenge: Make it a family affair. Use your cell phones to make calls before dinner, then unplug together for the meal.
4. Engage in gemilut chasadim, acts of love and kindness. When is the last time you went out of your way to make conversation with someone outside your circle? Read an article in order understand a perspective different than your own? Refrained from speaking so that a quieter person could have a moment to shine? Do something that involves listening, understanding, and committing to “walking the walk.”
- Bonus challenge: During your lunch break, find someone eating alone and ask if you can join them.
Give your dollars, either by donating directly to organizations, or by changing the way you spend.
5. Make charitable donations. Whether you give to local organizations or to those that operate on a larger scale, ask the right questions. Do they adhere to high ethical and sustainable standards of practice? Do members of the communities being served hold leadership roles within the organization?
- Bonus challenge: Don’t judge nonprofits based solely on what percentage of their donations go direct-to-program. While they should be transparent in how they use their funds, they also need to pay bills, hire talented staff to maintain the integrity of their work, and get out the word about their work.
6. Support small businesses. When you’re buying holiday gifts, shop at locally owned stores run by people who you’d like to support in your community – and this isn’t limited to the holidays!
- Bonus challenge: Take a few extra minutes to chat with the person working at a locally owned business. What’s their story?
7. Shop at ethical companies. Companies have to make choices regarding their environmental impact, hiring and labor practices, use of sustainable materials, financial support to politicians, involvement with corporate social responsibility, and more. Often, by ensuring a high ethical standard in one area, they have to sacrifice another. What’s most important to you?
- Bonus challenge: Watch this video about Patagonia’s culture of transparency. How can you ask the same questions of the stores where you shop?
8. Use Amazon Smile. Can’t give up the benefits of online shopping? Log in to your existing Amazon account through Amazon Smile, and select a nonprofit you’d like to sponsor with your purchases. You don’t need to do anything else – same great products, same great prices – but Amazon will donate 0.5% of your eligible purchases to the nonprofit of your choice.
- Bonus challenge: Combine all of the above by using Amazon Smile to shop from a locally owned retailer of your choice, support a cause you care about, and an organization working hard to make it a reality.