2015 Charitable Giving Guide: Small gifts, big impacts

When it comes to giving, it can be easy to feel that you could never do “enough” to solve a problem. Yet what does “enough” really mean? Is one sharp-looking suit enough to help a person in need confidently prepare for a job interview? Is one bag of groceries enough to help keep a senior citizen living independently? Is one hour of tutoring enough to help a child learn?

The truth is that every gift, no matter how small, is a step in the right direction. “Gifts of all sizes can make a difference for nonprofits, because even the smallest contributions represent a relationship between a nonprofit and their community,” says Jake Blumberg, Executive Director of GiveMN, an organization that connects donors and causes through the innovative and user-friendly website, givemn.org. “Even a small gift can help you learn more about a nonprofit, and for nonprofits, every new supporter—larger and smaller—helps to expand the network of support for that organization in the community.”

Whether it’s one dollar, one hour, or one item given in the right spirit, the simple act of giving can help you feel empowered to find even more ways to give. And Jake points out that telling others about the charities you care about can be a great way to extend the benefits of your giving. “A gift combined with spreading the word about the great work a nonprofit is doing is the ultimate combination, as the donor can both directly and indirectly support a cause they care about,” he explains.

The end of the year is a natural time to examine our resources, time and priorities to see where and how we might give for the greater good (and do so before the 2015 tax year closes). So this year, remember: “Even small contributions can have a big impact,” says Jake. “Grassroots giving is all about the wider impact that a community can have by working together toward a greater good, and smaller individual contributions quite quickly add up to a large impact when they are combined with other generous community supporters! Every little bit helps for nonprofits who are working to make Minnesota and the world a better place.”

With that encouragement in mind, read on for some inspiring examples of programs and organizations working for the greater good in our neighborhoods—and see where you might like to make a gift of your time or treasure, however humble it may be, to support the wonderful work happening across our community. Of course, these ideas are just a start—check out the sidebar for even more go-to giving resources. 


Give someone the ability to read: Minnesota Literacy Council 


If you’re reading this story, you’re probably taking the ability to do so for granted. With a mission to share the power of learning, the Minnesota Literacy Council is out to make sure that everyone has the ability to read and build better lives through education, serving everyone from toddlers learning their ABCs to senior citizens determined to finally get their high-school diplomas.

With a gift of just $30, you can cover the cost of two weeks of classes for a person in need. Classes include English as a Second Language; Reading; GED Classes; College Prep; Citizenship; and more. If that appeals to you, how about getting a family group together to support an adult with a full year of literacy classes for $668? With just seven people, that’s less than $10 per person. And if you’d like to do even more, how about giving $1,000 to give a full 25 kids reading help over the summer? In addition, volunteer opportunities abound, from after-school tutors to adult classroom teaching assistants and more.

For teachers, book lovers, or anyone who knows the value of a solid educational foundation, supporting the Minnesota Literacy Council is an A+ way to ensure that our little corner of Minnesota is a place where all [people, with apologies to Garrison] are above average. 

For more information:
Minnesota Literacy Council


Give an interview power suit: Harriet’s Closet


For women who have escaped domestic violence situations, a new suit of clothes can be a powerful step toward a new phase in their lives. Harriet’s Closet is a volunteer-run boutique where women at the Harriet Tubman Center Shelters in Minneapolis and Maplewood can “shop” for a new-to-them outfit at no cost, in preparation for job interviews, court appearances, or visits with prospective landlords.

Start as small as giving a package of new pantyhose, or pass on a like-new briefcase that looks great but never made it into your regular rotation. Or, go all out and do a one-for-me, one-for-you outfit purchase on your next shopping trip for work clothes. We all know how confident a good suit can make us feel on the day of an important job interview; make that sense of self-worth possible for someone else with a gift to Harriet’s Closet.

See a current wish list of items as well as giving guidelines at www.tubman.org/donate/pdfs/HarrietsClosetDonationGuidelines.pdf.

For more information:
Tubman Center


Give a week’s worth of meals: Open Arms of Minnesota 


Open Arms of Minnesota strives toward a simple, yet powerful vision: A world of abundance where people who are sick won’t go hungry.
In a holiday season full of feasting, toasting and more feasting, you may be especially drawn to give a gift that directly help put meals on the table for someone struggling with illness in your community. For just $45, you can sponsor an Open Arms client and provide a full week’s worth of healing and heart-warming meals. Inspired to do more? Consider becoming a member of the Bread & Butter Club, to make a monthly recurring donation.  Open Arms is also especially welcoming of volunteers, whether you have chef-worthy kitchen skills or can barely dice a cucumber. Check their invididual and group volunteer opportunities in the kitchen preparing meals; delivering meals to clients, or even working on their farm in season to grow produce on their St. Paul urban farm.

For more information:
Open Arms of Minnesota


Give your grocery-packing skills: The Food Shelf at Hennepin County Medical Center

It’s hard to be healthy when you don’t know where your next meal is coming from. The Food Shelf at the Hennepin County Medical Center is a pioneering model (one of just a few nation-wide) of a food shelf within Minnesota’s largest safety-net hospital and clinic system.

Packing groceries at The Food Shelf would be a great volunteer option for corporate groups; start by doing an easy 2-3 hour shift to pack healthy groceries in reusable bags that will go to patients and families in need. The Food Shelf also welcomes bulk donations of reusable, cloth grocery bags; you might consider putting together a new reusable bag drive with a group of friends or at your workplace. Either way, you can feel good knowing that nourishing food will be going home with families doing their best to be healthy. 

For more information:
The Food Shelf at Hennepin County Medical Center


Give your computer savvy: Computer Lab at Project for Pride in Living 

Do you live on your laptop? Is it easy for you to sail through online employment applications? Is a search engine the first place you go to get any and all pressing questions answered? If so, giving as little as an hour a week could be a great way for you to give.

The Learning Center Computer Lab at Project for Pride in Living helps low-income job seekers learn the basic computer skills they need to get started on job searches that will help them improve their lives. From searching for employment online, to creating resumes, to completing online applications, volunteers help participants pick up Microsoft Office and basic web navigation skills. Choose from morning or afternoon weekly shifts and put those bazillion hours you’ve spent in front of your office computer screen this year to great use.

For more information:
Project for Pride in Living Computer Center


Give a vaccination to an adoptable pet: Pet Project Rescue


If you’ve ever gone on vacation somewhere only to have your heart broken by seeing the many dogs and cats on the streets who have to fight to survive, you may have felt utterly helpless to do anything about the problem (save bringing home a cargo-hold full of doggies).

While joining a family isn’t an option for all of these animals, many are perfect fur-babies-to-be; all that stands in the way of them being adopted is a few simple treatments and a loving foster home until they’re adopted. For just $10, you can provide a vaccination that will get a street doggie or kitty one step closer to finding their forever home. Pet Project Rescue, started as an effort to re-home street dogs on Isla Mujeres, Mexico, makes it all possible. If you can swing more, consider feeding a foster pet for a month for $30 or giving $100 for dog training to help a pup learn the manners he’ll need to be a well-behaved member of the family. You can also donate pet supplies directly from their Amazon wish list—and that’s as easy as saying, “Good dog!” 

For more information:
Pet Project Rescue


Give breakfast to homeless individuals: Salvation Army Harbor Light Shelter 

We’ve all seen the homeless on sidewalks and street corners and perhaps given them our spare change or a dollar or two. As an alternative, consider giving your time (or dollars) to an organization that turns them into nourishing meals for more than 1,200 people every day of the year at breakfast, lunch and dinner.

You or a group of up to 12 friends and co-workers can help to prepare and serve (and clean up after) breakfast at the Harbor Light homeless shelter in downtown Minneapolis. A great option if you work downtown, you could squeeze in two hours of feel-good giving from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. and still put in a full day at the office. Watch a training video online to know what to expect, and sign up online—and the next time you pass a homeless person, you can know that you’re doing something to help.

Of course, financial donations are always welcome. Every time you consider handing a dollar to a homeless person on the street, instead sack it away and make a year-end donation to The Salvation Army or another organization helping homeless folks. Together with others’ gifts, the organizations’ expertise with homelessness, and corporate and foundation partnerships, they can make your dollar go much further toward alleviating individuals’ suffering and ending homelessness in our community. 

For more information:
Salvation Army
For group volunteer sign-up, call 612.767.3119


Give a birthday party for homeless youth: YouthLink 

Of course homelessness doesn’t just affect adults; there are unfortunately many youth experiencing homelessness in our communities as well.

Especially for kids, anything that helps offer a sense of normalcy and the opportunity to just be a kid can be a life-saver. So if you’re the first person in a group to start belting out Happy Birthday in a crowded restaurant or love seeing the looks of delight on your kids’ faces as they open their birthday gifts—or you’re just a sucker for birthday cake and ice cream—this is the giving opportunity for you.

Gather a group of up to eight friends to provide a birthday party for kids at YouthLink (parties are hosted monthly; plan on about a three-hour commitment, including a brief orientation). You bring a full sheet cake, ice cream and a few $10 gift cards (Target is popular) as prizes for the bingo game (plus a few fun “consolation prizes” like pens or candy) and YouthLink provides lunch and all the bingo accoutrements. Enjoy chatting with the kids over lunch and presiding over a few games of bingo—and giving homeless kids a chance to just be kids.

For more information:


Give the gift of music: MacPhail Center for Music

Music is a universal language, and can do everything from provide food for thought, to take us on journeys to other times and places, to even challenging our notions of what “music” ought to be.

The MacPhail Center for Music believes that music “strengthens the mind, lifts the spirit, and improves communities” and is “essential for the well-being of children, adolescents and adults.” If you agree, consider a gift to help students of all ages, backgrounds and abilities the opportunity to experience the transformative power of music. Your gift could help kids get an early introduction to music and build school-readiness skills; make it possible for people with special needs to access the healing potential of music; or help older adults keep their minds active and exercise their creativity. Think of the joy that comes over you when your favorite song comes on, or when you pick up an instrument to play—and then make that feeling possible for others. 

For more information:
MacPhail Center for Music


Give social justice: Headwaters Foundation for Social Justice 

2015 has been a turbulent year across the country and around the world. With incident after incident happening, it’s easy to feel powerless against what seems to be a rising tide of violence and injustice. But there is something we can do; we can give to organizations who support the push for social justice in myriad ways.

Headwaters Foundation for Social Justice seeks to amplify the power of community to advance equity and justice. They believe that “change is created by individuals who have the courage to stand up, the wisdom to join together, and the support to create durable, sustainable solutions.”

A gift to Headwaters, which has earned a top rating by Charity Navigator (charitynavigator.org) for fiscal responsibility, accountability and transparency, will go toward efforts rooted in the community to resolve the root causes of injustice. Grantees include Black Lives Matter Minneapolis; Council on American Islamic Relations; Conflict Resolution Center; and many, many more.

For more information:
Headwaters Foundation for Social Justice


Give to maintain our beautiful parks: People for Parks 

If you know our city lakes like the back of your hand and can rattle off the best parks for everything from picnics to cross-country skiing to taking the kids to play, a gift to People for Parks might be right up your alley (or walking path).

As the organization points out, “Tax dollars aren’t nearly enough to maintain and improve our world-class parks system.” Founded in 1977 to carry out special projects to enhance our city’s parks and facilities, in cooperation with the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, the organization takes on special events and projects, from planting flowers and trees, to organizing music events, to maintaining buildings, and much more.

Abundant volunteer opportunities also await those who’d like to give their time to make our parks better places to be. If you’re a fan of Minneapolis parks, giving to People for Parks might be a great choice for you.

For more information:
People for Parks


Smart giving

Check out these resources to help you make an informed charitable gift. 

Charity Navigator

Unbiased, quantitative ratings of charities based on fiscal soundness; accountability and transparency; and more, to help you find an organization that will use your dollars wisely.

Give MN

Giving can be easy, as this local nonprofit proves. Find charities to support through a user-friendly interface; organizations and schools can also launch fundraising efforts on the platform. The Give MN mission? Make giving simple—and fun.