It’s a terrible feeling when you grab your wallet in hopes to donate to the bell-ringing Salvation Army Santa at your local grocery store or to the food pantry collection box at work only to realize you don’t have the extra cash to drop in.

When it comes to charitable donations, it can be disheartening to realize your budget doesn’t allow you to give as much money as you’d like.

But just because you can’t write a big check, doesn’t mean you can’t have a big impact on worthy causes in your community. Jacqueline Howard, senior director of corporate citizenship, says that taking actions to support your favorite causes can be just as meaningful as making a personal donation. After all, your time and expertise are valuable commodities.

Be inspired by the following ways that our employees give back to their communities without digging into their wallets.

1. Volunteer your time

Many non-profit organizations have a small staff and need lots of extra hands to make progress toward their goals. For example, food pantries look for volunteers to organize, pack, and deliver food. Environmental organizations often need people to help clean up polluted areas or plant trees or shrubs. Even smaller churches and community organizations may need help with painting and neighborhood beautification projects.

Volunteer projects are fun to be involved with because you can see the immediate impacts of your efforts — whether it’s a stack of sorted food, a beautifully painted building, or a clean beach. Check to see if the organizations in your neighborhood need volunteers for upcoming projects. And also inquire with your employer about paid time off for volunteering — some offer this benefit. Ally gives eight hours of paid volunteer time off each year so employees can spend time giving back.

2. Share your expertise

Skill-based volunteering is in high-demand and has a deep impact because it’s often focused on teaching others an important skill that opens up new opportunities in their lives. For example, Ally employees regularly read books on financial topics to young children and teach Wallet Wise financial education courses to teens and adults. These courses address budgeting, credit, savings, and investing — important life skills that empower people to take control of their future.

If you’re interested in sharing your skills, think first about what you’re good at. Do you have carpentry skills? They could be put to use building homes for an organization like Habitat for Humanity. Do you like to cook? Ronald McDonald House has opportunities to make meals for families with sick children staying at their facilities. Do you have computer skills that a local job-training program could utilize? Almost everyone has a talent that they can teach someone or use to help others.

3. Donate gently used items

Are you channeling Marie Kondo’s techniques at home? Or simply doing a closet clean out? Numerous organizations can benefit from your gently used clothing and housewares.

Consider donating professional clothing to an organization like Dress for Success, which helps prepare underserved women for the workforce. Local homeless shelters also typically accept donations, especially during the colder months when coats, shoes, and blankets are in high demand. Even toys that your child has outgrown can be gifted to children in need.

Although many things in life require money, giving back to your community isn’t one of them. By donating your time, sharing your expertise, and giving excess items, you can make a big impact in the lives of individuals and families in your area — and feel great about your contributions.

How do you help others? Tell us in the comments below.

  • What types of volunteer work do you find most rewarding?
  • What organizations have you donated your time or belongings to?
  • What expertise have you shared with those less fortunate?