Being charitable and supporting causes you care about is a purposeful mission regardless of personal resources. Many of us share the goal of giving — in fact, Americans’ generosity rose to record levels in the last year, according to an annual report by nonprofit Giving USA Foundation. But you don’t always need to donate money to give back in valuable ways. Here are some tips to focus your resources so you can support the causes that matter to you.

How to Plan Donation Goals

There’s no one formula for deciding how, why or what to give. But there are ways to guide your efforts so that they support both your budget and the charities of your choice.

Whether you’d like to give back to your community or have a national cause in mind, think about the issues that really matter to you. The clearer you are about what you want to support, the more you can focus on limited resources or find creative ways to support the goal.

Once you’ve honed in on your charitable interests, here are a few initial steps.

Include giving in the expense budget

No matter how much you might want to give to charity, it’s important to work the amount into your monthly budget to know what you can truly afford. Planning your charitable donations also means you'll be more likely to remember to give. So, if you want to devote a percentage of income to charity, make a plan for it, and include it as an expense in your cash flow plan — maybe even broken down by pay period. That way, giving won’t negatively impact your budget at the end of the month with, say, an unpaid bill.

Time giving to match income cycle

If you choose to give a percentage of take-home pay or want to make donations at certain times of the year, it’s also important to time them right. For instance, there might be times of the month or year when money is tight — like when the rent is paid or when income tax is due. If so, move your giving to a different week or month on the calendar.

Another option? Workplace giving programs can be efficient ways to donate to the charities you care about, typically done through paycheck deductions. You can pledge any amount you choose to different charities based on the level of support you wish to provide. What’s more, some employers match what you give up to a certain amount. For example, if an employer matches dollar-for-dollar, your $200 donation becomes $400 — and that’s the amount the charity receives. That leverages your employer’s extra support, maximizing your gift.

Consider the many alternatives to money

Hear the word “give” and sometimes our minds may automatically think “dollar signs.” But there is no correlation between having a lot of resources and being a giving person. And donating money is just one of many ways to give to charities. For example:

  • Donating your time to a cause that you’re passionate about is just as valuable.
  • Lending your talents in ways that help others is rewarding.
  • Shopping where your purchases count toward charity makes a difference.

Creative Ways to Give to Charity

A central mission of being charitable is to align your giving with what’s important to you and in ways that work for you. Check out these seven approaches to make a charitable impact that’s meaningful — without the need for cash or checks.

1. Give your time

Donating time to charity can be especially helpful to nonprofit organizations because they often depend on volunteers to accomplish their goals. Do you have a few hours to help wrap toys for a children’s hospital holiday gift program? Can you spend some time distributing flyers in the community advertising a local pet adoption event at the animal shelter? Or do you have time to inventory supplies at the food bank? Giving manpower (vs. money) is a way to do a lot of good with no financial obligation.

2. Offer your skills

Everyone has a talent to share. Are you a skilled carpenter, a great bookkeeper, an experienced landscaper or an amateur photographer? Many charities, churches and advocacy groups have specialized needs but can’t afford dedicated staff. Reach out to organizations you know to find out about the types of help they could use and how to get involved in charities.

3. Organize a donation drive

When you engage others, your donation efforts multiply. The more participation you can drum up, the better. The possibilities are endless:

  • Organize a canned food drive with co-workers for your local food pantry.
  • Set up a neighborhood garage sale, where proceeds go to agreed-upon charities.
  • Ask members of your book club to collect recently read titles to give to a nearby assisted-living facility.

4. Shop where it matters

Supporting brands with a charitable mission is also a way to turn everyday shopping into doing good. Check with merchants you frequent to see if they offer ways to donate a portion of your purchases. For instance, AmazonSmile will donate 0.5% of your eligible purchases to a charitable organization of your choice. Some retailers, like shoe brand Toms, return a percentage of their profits to their communities. Others, like school supply maker Yoobi, match all purchases with in-kind donations to classrooms.

5. Donate your birthday or holiday

Instead of family and friends giving gifts for a birthday, anniversary or holiday, ask them to give to charity instead. If you decide to raise money for a specific nonprofit, tell loved ones why it’s important to you. What will the funds be used for, and how are you connected to the cause? Shifting a special day from buying gifts to acts of charity makes a personal impact. And many charities welcome this idea, offering ways to set up a campaign to collect donations tied to your date, which you can also promote via social media.

6. Give away supplies and gently used items

Most of us probably have things we no longer need taking up space in our homes and garages. And rather than tossing what we don’t use, declutter and give things new life by donating them to someone in need. Whether it’s books in good condition, clothes, electronics, furniture, household goods, kitchen supplies, shoes or toys, popular charities like Goodwill and Salvation Army can sell used merchandise in their thrift stores or online auction sites for fundraising — using the money to support their programs. Plus, donations made by Dec. 31 may net you a tax deduction on the IRS return you file the following April.

7. Use a charity credit card or donate rewards

Did you know that some credit cards are designed for charitable giving? For example, the Susan G. Komen Customized Cash Rewards card from Bank of America directs 0.08% of all retail purchases made with the card to breast cancer research.

In addition, many traditional rewards credit cards allow the option of donating your cash back, points or miles directly to charity — often from a link on their website. For example, Discover works with various charitable partners so that cardmembers can donate their Cashback Bonus. Options like this make it easy to give to charity without having to spend more out-of-pocket or before rewards expire — no extra steps or special card required.

Finding Ways to Give to Charity that Are Uniquely Yours

Everyone values the opportunity to make a positive difference. Fortunately, giving back and sticking to a budget don’t have to be mutually exclusive. By exploring your options, considering what you have to offer and getting creative, you can bring the most value to the causes that mean the most. And when you discover all the ways to donate to favorite charities, it becomes easier to find a match that’s personally rewarding and affordable.