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The Microgiver's Guide to Philanthropy

So many social issues, so little time—and money—to help them all.

That’s what you may be thinking this time of year, when the pleas for donations start to fill up your mailbox, leaving you feeling dismayed if you can’t write as big of a check as you’d like.

But you don’t have to be a big-ticket donor like Bill and Melinda Gates to make a difference.

According to the 2015 Giving USA report, the average household donated $2,030 to favorite causes last year.

“Something like two-thirds of Americans give in any given year—and we’re seeing giving across the income spectrum,” says Dr. Una Osili, research director at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, which releases the report each year. “Small gifts can actually have a big impact.”

With that in mind, we’ve rounded up ways you can be charitable without having to shell out big bucks—just in time for National Philanthropy Day.

But you don’t have to be a big-ticket donor like Bill and Melinda Gates to make a difference.

According to the 2015 Giving USA report, the average household donated $2,030 to favorite causes last year.

“Something like two-thirds of Americans give in any given year—and we’re seeing giving across the income spectrum,” says Dr. Una Osili, research director at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, which releases the report each year. “Small gifts can actually have a big impact.”

With that in mind, we’ve rounded up ways you can be charitable without having to shell out big bucks—just in time for National Philanthropy Day.

1. Make a Microloan

If your idea of doing good is to help someone start a café in the West Bank, or expand a vegetable farm in Africa, then microfinance may be for you.

In a nutshell, it’s the act of providing financial services to low-income and marginalized individuals who may not have access to things like credit or loans.

And thanks to nonprofits like Kiva and Accion, it’s fairly simple nowadays to make microloans—in amounts as little as $25—to entrepreneurs around the world who want to lift themselves out of poverty.

Just keep in mind that, unlike a donation, microloans aren’t tax-deductible, since the expectation is that you’re getting the money back.

However, that doesn’t mean a microloan can’t be a gift that keeps on giving—once you’re repaid, you can use the funds to lend to someone new.

2. Shop With Purpose

While you’re scouting your Christmas presents this year, why not make the money you’re spending do some philanthropic double-duty?

Enter e-commerce sites with a charitable mission that enable shoppers to feel a little bit better about hitting that “checkout” button.

Charitable-shopping portals like Amazon Smile allow customers who buy through the site to have 0.5% of their purchases donated to a 501(c) charity of their choice. There are nearly a million options to choose from, including the ASPCA and the Wounded Warrior Project.

Other charitable shopping sites to consider: iGive.com, GreaterGood.com and TOMS Marketplace (from the people behind TOMS shoes, a company known for donating a pair of shoes for every pair sold).

“What these sites have done is made it so you can integrate giving into your daily life,” says Katherina Rosqueta, founding executive director of The Center for High Impact Philanthropy at The University of Pennsylvania. “And because of things like technology, e-commerce and giving platforms, people are able to connect with philanthropic opportunities on a smaller scale and much more seamlessly.”

Don’t see a product you like on any of these sites? You can still make a difference by using socially conscious search engines.

GoodSearch, for instance, donates a portion of its advertising search revenue to your favorite charity every time you use it to look something up. Sleedo donates rice to the poor for every search, and The Eco Key donates part of its revenue to organizations that remove litter worldwide.

3. Crowdfund for Your Favorite Cause

Sometimes it may not be a big charity you’re trying to support, but a cause that hits closer to home—like a scholarship fund for local kids, or a friend who needs help with a medical crisis.

Platforms like Crowdrise and GoFundMe have made it easy to create crowdfunding pages that can help support friends and neighbors—even people across the country. (Check out this list for more top crowdfunding sites.)

You can also search for a specific campaign that’s close to your heart, or browse by topic, such as memorials or animals. Just keep in mind that only contributions to qualified nonprofits are tax-deductible.

And even if you don’t choose the biggest donation available on a campaign’s page, your contribution can still make a sizable impression.

“You may be giving a relatively small gift, but you can also encourage friends, family and colleagues to support that cause too,” Osili says. “When individuals come together and give—whether it’s $100 or $10—they can have a significant impact.”

Osili points out that there’s no greater example of a crowdfunding project than the Statue of Liberty: The base of the monument was completed with the help of more than 120,000 donors—most of whom gave $1 or less.

4. Text to Donate

You may remember the Red Cross’s text-messaging campaign to help raise money for disaster relief following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti.

All people had to do was text the word “Haiti” to a short code, and they were able to donate $10 to the cause, which appeared as a charge on their cell phone bill.

The campaign raised an impressive $43 million, thrusting the power of mobile giving into the spotlight.

But you don’t need to wait until Mother Nature strikes to be charitable via text—it’s likely that many of your favorite organizations accept text donations year-round, from the American Cancer Society to UNICEF.

To see if your charity of choice has a similar program, check out MobileGiving.org, which offers a rundown of charities and their associated keywords and short codes.

“[Text donating] is so incredibly easy, which is great because it can encourage a much wider set of people to give,” Rosqueta says. “The only risk is that people may not be doing the minimal due diligence before they send money.”

Rosqueta’s advice? Do your research on sites like Charity Navigator, GuideStarand Give.org to see if your money is going to a nonprofit that will use it in an efficient and transparent way.

“There was a time when, unless you were directly volunteering with an organization or doing site visits, it was was very hard to get this kind of information,” Rosqueta says. “Now you can have more confidence that your money is going to do good.”

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