There’s been a lot of talk here lately on the ethics of tithing. Last week, Aundi pointed out that one problem with tithing is that obligatory weekly or monthly giving must create a sense of resentment, when other methods of fundraising, such as a drive, could create a stronger sense of community.

While I don’t like the idea of prescribed giving, and find some of the manipulation Aundi discusses patently unethical, I think it’s worthwhile to consider the ethics of putting your resources to work in your community. Giving money is, of course, important, especially to the right organizations. In college, I had a paid internship at an organization funded almost completely by donations–when their giving was down, they had to let me go. As an intern, it wasn’t that big of a deal. But, also while I was in school, a local sexual assault advocacy organization lost funding for its only education and outreach position. That was just one woman’s job, but the loss was definitely felt in the community.

However, there are so many ways besides money to give back. In this week’s WWYD, I’m exploring some of the ways to give back to your community–please feel free to offer more suggestions in the comments!

Some organizations rely on small individual donations; others accept these donations but are funded mostly by grants, major gifts, or membership. Likewise, some organizations make room to use volunteers, and others run their programs with volunteer staffs. When looking to donate money, it’s worth investigating who uses donations most efficiently, and what kind of donations mean the most to different organizations. When looking to donate your time, a little research can pay off in a huge way–you can find volunteer work that’s meaningful for the organization and fulfilling for you.

It can take a little work–I interned at one organization that found it very frustrating to find space for people who insisted on volunteering in one particular way, but that didn’t want to upset potential donors by turning them down. If you figure out where you’re really needed, though, you can donate your professional skills, devote the time to other personal development, or do something completely different. Clinics, animal rescue organizations, and political or issue campaigns are all organizations that tend to use volunteers in integral ways. Try or scan the listings at your local craigslist–and google “LGBT volunteers” in your city. Lots of LGBT organizations come from a grassroots perspective that regards volunteers as a vital component of their mission.

Also, donations of stuff–new or used stuff–can be exponentially important. I didn’t realize what a big deal it was until another of my internships, with an umbrella organization that covered a number of urban development and anti-poverty projects. The organizations that most often accept donations of food, clothes, school supplies, and toiletries, such as shelters, HeadStarts, and food banks, are usually grant-funded. This means that their budgets are usually strictly allocated, especially if they’re on government grants, so there isn’t a lot of wiggle room for buying extra supplies. Also, organizations can count in-kind donations of goods as funds they’ve raised to earn matching grants. Buying an extra bottle of shampoo for your local women’s shelter or a few cans for the food bank can be a big benefit. Also, while no one wants something completely gross, homeless shelters can clean up clothes or toys that are a little too well-used for a thrift store to sell.

Before you get rid of anything, see if there’s someone who can use it. More and more electronics can be donated for different causes–there’s almost certainly a domestic violence program in your area that collects old cell phones to give their clients 911 access. lists many different kinds of organizations that need old phones–seriously, if you ever throw away a used cell phone, please lie to me and tell me that you donated it to someone. I even know a couple who donated their house to the fire department to burn down for training–they’re rebuilding on their land and can get a tax writeoff by making the house a charitable donation.

As I’m starting out and getting settled, I’ve been thinking a lot about how to get involved in my community and meet new people without spending a whole lot of money. Volunteer time has been a huge part of that–and during the holidays, charitable giving of one kind or another is on a lot of people’s minds. How do you regard the charities in your area–or do you give them much thought at all?