Bill Gates wants you to get involved in philanthropy, either through donation, volunteering, or both. At last week's virtual GeekWire Summit, GeekWire editor-in-chief Todd Bishop asked Gates what (besides voting) he would call on everyone in the audience and beyond to do to make the world a better place over the next decade.
"Philanthropy can be a lot of fun," Gates answered. "And it works at every scale, both resources and volunteer time." The pandemic has exacerbated inequality in every dimension, he added -- racial inequality, gender inequality, wealth inequality, and the inequality between rich nations and poor ones. "That should call forth more generosity and empathy, particularly from rich countries and office workers," he said. "So I'd like to see philanthropy go up, not just in dollars but also all the office workers participating in various causes to help out those who've been less fortunate."
You may be thinking: That's easy for him to say! The man is worth $110 billion. Some of us are struggling to pay our mortgages. If you are thinking that, I get it. Like many people, my income has been affected by the pandemic. But years before that happened, I hesitated to make donations, put off by organizations that, for instance, called on people to donate 5 percent of their income. If I couldn't, or wouldn't, do something that significant, why give at all?
If you've already made charitable giving or volunteering part of your regular routine, you may already know what it took me a while to realize: Even a tiny donation is better than no donation, and that there are many ways to make the world better without straining your finances.
1. Make it very small and automatically repeating.
Over the years, I've set up small, repeating monthly donations that ranged in size from $10 to $100 a month. Right now, I donate $10 a month to Doctors Without Borders, and another $10 a month to rebuild a beloved, employee-owned retreat center in Breitenbush, Oregon, which was largely destroyed in this year's wildfires.
Most organizations welcome this kind of small, repeating donation and even encourage it when asking you to give. It makes sense -- it's a predictable income stream that doesn't require any further soliciting. But your bank or PayPal can also easily set up recurring payments. So consider making some sort of small, monthly donation that won't have much impact on your budget or lifestyle but will be meaningful over time.
3. Try microlending.
Microloans are very small loans you can make to individuals or small businesses in amounts as little as $25 or even less. I've been using Kiva, the best-known microloan platform, to make loans to women in the Philippines (in honor of my mother) for years, and basically I've lent and re-lent the same $100 or so to women seeking inventory for their little stores or feed for their farm animals and who then pay back the loan over time. You can make microloans to people all over the world, including in the United States. Kiva also asks for a small additional fee to cover its own operations, which you can choose not to pay, but I always do. It still doesn't amount to very much, and it's fun to watch the same $100 help so many different people. Last Christmas, I also gave the grandkids $25 Kiva loan gift cards (along with real presents for them) as a fun way for them to learn more about the world outside the United States and get them thinking about philanthropy as well.
4. Donate your stuff.
We all have closets full of clothes we never wear, kitchens full of appliances we never use, and garages full of toys and other items that we no longer need. Rather than throwing things out or having a garage sale, consider donating your unwanted stuff to a thrift store that supports an organization you'd like to help. Or, if you really want to have that garage sale, consider splitting the proceeds with a charity of your choice -- which may help you sell more, too.
5. Donate your time.
Schools, soup kitchens, theaters, museums, parks, hospitals, and any other number of worthwhile institutions in every corner of the United States need volunteers to help keep things running. And volunteering your time is just as meaningful, and has just as much impact, as making a cash donation. This might be an especially good choice if you've lost work because of the pandemic and you're short on cash but have extra time on your hands.
Will doing any of these things make a huge impact? Certainly not compared with the billions that Gates and his friend Warren Buffett have donated. But just because something is small doesn't mean it isn't worthwhile, and you'll be just one of millions of people who've made small charitable gestures part of their daily lives. Besides, Gates is right -- philanthropy can be a lot of fun.