My Philanthropy: How I Donate My Money & My Time
(and tips for you to donate too)

I don't just encourage other people to donate their money and time to the causes they believe in; I also donate and volunteer myself.

Per the repeated questions on the Community Service section of YahooAnswers asking again and again "How do I pick an organization to donate to/volunteer with?", I've realized that there are a lot more people out there than I ever realized that want to help but just don't know where or how to start.

Making Choices

I am overwhelmed with solicitation requests for money. You probably are too. I want to help... but where do I begin? I care about oh-so-many issues. How do I choose just one to support? Or even just two? If you ever feel this way, I hope this page can help.

First, accept that you cannot give to every cause you believe in. It's impossible. You will never have enough time nor money to do it all. However, don't then go to the extreme of believing there is nothing you can do; you can do something to make a difference in the world.

Next, remember that there is more than one way to contribute to the causes you believe in:

You need to think, realistically, about what you can do now, and what you might be able to do in the future, in terms of all four of these categories.


Make a giving plan every year, or every six months, or every holiday season, even if all you can give is $20. Making a plan makes giving an integrated commitment that you really do regularly (rather than just meaning to do sometime ), it keeps you from giving money just whenever anyone asks, and it keeps you from losing track of your funds and any difference you might be making. It makes it easier to feel like you are really helping, and it makes it easier to say no to other appeals (and you will have to say no at some point).

BUDGET DONATIONS - My story : I make a financial giving plan every year. I budget a certain amount of money to give to nonprofit organizations that I care about. 75% of it is earmarked at the start of the budget, but I leave 25% open, in case I'm particularly moved by some appeal, or feel an overwhelming sense of urgency to do something.
You can also engage in fundraising activities on behalf of an organization, but be sure you talk to the organization FIRST, to make sure they agree with what you want to do on the organization's behalf. DON'T try to organize a walkathon, fun run, danceathon, benefit concert, special event, whatever unless you have been a part of someone else's walkathon, danceathon, fun run, benefit concert, special event, whatever; you need to be experienced in holding these kinds of events before you try to lead the effort yourself (many of these events end up losing money!). If you are a teen, consider pledging some or all of the money you (or even with a group of your friends) raise in a period baby sitting, dog walking, dog washing, yard work, house cleaning, car washing, etc. to an organization (and, again, talk to the organization FIRST to ensure they are comfortable with your doing this on the organization's behalf).

If you aren't sure where to start with financial donations, then I say start local: think about what issues are dearly important to you, and look for an organization in your area that addresses that issue. With the Internet, that's incredibly easy now. If you are in the USA, you can also call up your local United Way and ask them if they know of a nonprofit organization that addresses such-and-such -- United Way agencies tend to know all the nonprofits in an area, not only the ones they support. Phone book yellow pages are another resource you can use.

If you want to go national or international, that's great, but go with a reputable organization, one that you know does good work, either because you have seen the organization profiled in the press, or you have a credible associate who has worked or volunteered there -- don't just rely on the appeal letter to make your decision.

Also, don't let anyone try to make your cause unimportant compared to some other cause -- you are NOT contributing to the homeless situation by giving your money to a nonprofit opera company, nor are you depriving hospice care by giving your money to an animal shelter. Your heart and passion is YOURS, and whatever cause moves you deeply and that you feel is important to help others, your community, the world, etc., is worthwhile.

How do I give? Through my own foundation: The Coyote Helps Foundation

In-Kind Donations

Trying to donate used items can feel frustrating. Many potential donors want to know their donations are going directly to a needy family. They also don't want any money charged for these gifts; they want the items given away free. Both are unrealistic expectations, and here's two reasons why:

Firstly, most organizations soliciting in-kind donations of clothes, furniture, toys, bicycles, whatever, aren't doing so to distribute these for free to needy families, because the families don't necessarily want USED items. Rather, these organizations are SELLING these items in order to raise money for their programs that serve needy families. Their programs include career advising, job training, tax preparation, government program application preparation and food pantries. There are many expenses associated with providing these services, and selling donated items is a great fundraising tool by many organizations, such as GoodWill

Secondly, many things, like clothes, furniture and toys, are relatively cheap in the USA, so cheap that low-income people don't see any need to shop at thrift stores, paying the same price for something used that they could get brand new somewhere else. Most people want new things -- just like YOU do (when was the last time you bought used clothes, or used toys for your children? Some of you, maybe, but most of you, NOT). Not that everyone who shops at thrift stores is a low-income person: I shop at thrift stores, and have since I was a college student. I'm amazed at what funky, unique items I can find at thrift stores. Also, I like to buy certain things used, because I'm very interested in reducing my carbon footprint; I don't think any more trees need to be cut down in order for me to have furniture.

IN-KIND DONATION CHOICE - My story : I prefer to donate my clothes (CLEANED first!!) to career-closet-type organizations (which help people, usually women, enter or re-enter the work place, and provide not only clothes, but training and professional advice) or Goodwill. I donate other items to whomever will pick them up; whether or not these donations actually go to a needy family, I am certainly reducing my carbon footprint by recycling, and therefore, I'm helping the environment.
Now, pardon me whilst I go through the neighbor's trash...


I volunteer. Some of my volunteer activities were undertaken simply because someone asked me , and it sounded like fun. Or, I liked the idea of being associated with the particular organization or activity. Or I thought, hey, this will look great on my CV. Or, I was angry about a circumstance and wanted to address such. Or, I had just moved to a new city and thought it might be a way to meet people.

I believe that there is nothing wrong with any motivation to volunteer, as long as the motivation isn't something destructive, and the volunteer always puts the mission of the organization first when engaging in his or her activities.

What has kept me volunteering long term for some organizations is:

VOLUNTEERING CHOICE - My story : You can see a list of everywhere I've volunteered, which includes information on how I choose where to donate my service.
If you don't know where to start in order to volunteer, here are two paths you can choose from: either think about what you want to DO as a volunteer (work with animals, work in an office and gain administrative experience, work outside, interact with people who are sick or disabled, build things, etc.) OR, think about the kind of mission you want to support, no matter what assignment you undertake (homelessness, people with disabilities, victims of domestic violence, the arts, etc.). And while you are thinking, have a look at VolunteerMatch, Idealist and CraigsList. All list volunteering opportunities with thousands of organizations. Also, in the USA, find and contact your local volunteer center and contact them.

More tips for teen community service.

Career Choice

Organizations that work to address homelessness, domestic violence, illiteracy, environmental issues, and on and on, or that work to promote theater, dance, history, responsible pet ownership and on and on, all need accountants, business managers, program directors, marketers, public relations specialists, IT staff, graphic designers, doctors, facility managers and on and on. And then there's organizations working in the developing world to help local people create and improve infrastructure, systems for clean water, and projects that help local people generate income, improve agricultural practices, know their rights under the law, and on and on; these organizations need the aforementioned professionals, as well as architects, engineers, farmers, scientists, teachers, lawyers...

The point being that just about any profession you could choose -- maybe any profession -- could be applied to nonprofit organizations. It's up to you to decide if you want apply your professional skills to such. But know that you are going to paid less than you will in the for-profit corporate world. Sad but true -- you will be paid more for marketing toasters than marketing the work of organizations trying to help people with HIV/AIDS.

CAREER CHOICE - My story : I love animals, especially dogs and cats, and as a child, I wanted to be a veterinarian when I grew up. It was my dearest dream. But as a teen, I realized that I lacked the intelligence, discipline and stomach to become a vet. I'm rotten at math and chemistry (but pretty good at biology), I cry uncontrollably at the sight of a hurt animal, and I can't stand to see the insides of a living animal. Therefore, I had to chose another career path. I majored in journalism, then ended up marketing for nonprofit theaters (I also have always loved the arts, and feel that the arts make a fundamental difference for the better in the lives of everyone). I got to use my early professional life to support one cause I loved very much, while donating funds to my local animal shelter (and opening my home to dogs) in order to support another cause near and dear to me. And I've been lucky enough to build on that start and to continue to work professionally to support organizations I believe are making a difference in the world.


This is a personal non-business-related page

This information posted by J. Cravens. The personal opinions expressed on this page are solely the opinion of Ms. Cravens, unless otherwise noted.

contact me

return to my list of causes | return to /cravens/index page