10 Ways to Change the World Without Writing a Check

This is the excerpt for your very first post.


by Anna Newman

Global warming.  An international refugee crisis. Hunger. Prison reform. Poverty. Bullying in the schools. Racism and discrimination. Floods, fire and natural disaster. Can one person make a difference, especially when you aren’t Bill Gates with a fat checkbook? One person can.

The complex, global problems of today are a lot to take in, especially when we have our own personal struggles and our own families to take care of. We have children to raise and parents to care for, maybe both. We have exams and deadlines and stress of our own. Sometimes I have to turn off the news, switch the station on the radio, get off Twitter, and tune it all out.  Just take a break. But I can’t hide, and you shouldn’t either. There are ways to take care of yourself and also make a difference. New ways to help without even opening your checkbook.  Don’t let limited funds or compassion fatigue stop you.  Your efforts matter.

  • Volunteer the New Way
  • Conserve resources with Meatless Mondays and Slow Fashion
  • Reach out to others through Operation Gratitude
  • Shop for good with Amazon Smile
  • Save the Bunnies, and of course, VOTE!

1. The New Way to Volunteer: VolunteerMatch.org

You know all about helping out at soup kitchens, raising money through walkathons, or that perpetual bake sale at your church. Did you know there are now free high tech ways to find volunteer opportunities that help you too? You can build skills or enjoy your hobbies while helping others.  A recent search on “photography” in the “I care about” box on VolunteerMatch.org led me to 40 different projects and organizations in the San Jose area looking for photo help.  From helping Real Options for City Kids with a summer fashion magazine program for youth to photographing Zimbabwean musical instruments for MBIRA,  and if photography isn’t your thing, there are more than 100,000 nonprofits from around the world on Volunteer Match. From accounting to sports, you can do what you love and help.

2. Meatless Mondays

You don’t have to be a vegetarian to make a big impact on global resource consumption. Skipping meat eating one day a week has a big impact.


Producing meat uses a lot of resources like feed (grains such as corn that could be eaten directly instead), water, transport of animals and products, processing, and land.  The Pacific Institute reported in 2012 that, “more than 90% of California’s water footprint is associated with agricultural products. Meat and dairy products have especially large water footprints due to the amount of water-intensive feed required to raise the animals.” [1]  Meatless Monday  was started in 2003 by Sid Lerner, a retired creative director from the advertising industry who wanted to improve world health through diet. Help the planet and improve your heath at the same time.

3. Avoid Products Tested on Animals

We may not all wear makeup, but we all use soap and other body products. Our furry friends pay the price for product testing with their lives. There are many alternative and perhaps more effective forms of modern product testing available [2]. Learn more at the Humane Society of America, and look for the leaping bunny when you shop. More and more products are certified cruelty-free and cost the same or less than animal tested products.

image courtesy HSUS

4. Slow Your Fashion

Swaporamarama Textile Exchange at 2015 San Mateo Maker Faire 20

Before you buy another inexpensive and cheaply made fast fashion garment, think about it the same way you would a plastic water bottle. It has about the same lifespan, may be made of the same non-biodegradable plastic type materials, and if discarded will sit in a landfill for decades. [3] Is a fast fashion store the only way to get your shopping fix? How about swapping clothing with some friends instead?


5. Backyard Composting

compostbindarkgreen1While we’re on the topic of keeping material out of landfills, why not try composting? “Compost adds nutrients and organic matter back to soil, which benefits agriculture, reduces our reliance on synthetic fertilizers, diverts methane-producing organic materials from landfills, and improves soil’s water retention capacity so you don’t need to water as much,” says Darby Hoover of the nonprofit Natural Resource Defense Council. She suggests following suggestions from the EPA to find an easy type of composting that works for you.  If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, see if you can also compost your kitchen waste into your yard waste bin.

6. Write Letters to Veterans, Service Men and Women and First Responders

If you think you have compassion fatigue, imagine what it’s like to be a fireman or EMT. How might it feel to be a disabled veteran or a service person far from home and family? You can honor and support these folks in a deeply meaningful way just by writing a letter. Participating in Operation Gratitude is an easy way to say “thank you” to those who serve. Operation Gratitude reports that, “Care package recipients tell us the letters, notes, and drawings are the most loved items in their box.” You can also knit hats and scarves and get involved in many other ways.

image courtesy operation gratitude

7. Donate Blood

It’s not as scary or gross as you think it will be.  I won’t lie, donating blood is not as much fun as watching a movie with friends or even having a good cup of coffee,  which is about how long it takes. Consider: You Can Save Someone’s Life.  That’s a pretty great feeling, worth spending a few minutes at a blood donation location.  And they usually give you a cookie!

Find a Red Cross donation location here:

8. Online Shopping with Amazon Smile

You’ve researched slow fashion and you are ready to purchase a smart sustainable ethically produced garment, or you’re renting that ebook for class, how should you shop and benefit your favorite cause? Try Amazon Smile. The environmental costs and benefits of online vs. traditional shopping are still being debated and researched, but one thing is clear: if you like to shop on Amazon.com, you can benefit a charity of your choice every time you make a purchase.  If you shift to smile.amazon.com, the same items you are looking at likely will be available, and the AmazonSmile Foundation will donate 0.5% of the price of eligible purchases to a charity you pick. 

How to use Amazon Smile:

  • Instead of navigating to amazon.com, go to smile.amazon.com.  It will look essentially the same and behave the same.
  • Pick your charity smileamazon_675356-85610010428
  • Shop

My charity is the Peninsula Symphony Orchestra.  Orchestra members and friends have raised money for PSO without writing a single check.

Screen Shot 2017-06-26 at 11.46.56 AM

9. Sign Up to Stop Receiving Junk Mail

Does this ever happen to you? (1) arrive home after a long day (2) stop at the mailbox (3) remove your mail (4) dump all or 90% of the mail into the recycle bin immediately.  Recycling junk mail is a great thing to do, but wouldn’t it be better to not get it at all? Catalog Choice, a non-profit in Berkeley, CA dedicated to eliminating junk mail reports the widely reported estimate of environmental impact: “Every year, over 100 million trees are cut down to produce junk mail that often goes straight to the trash. What a waste!” [4]

image courtesy ecocycle.org

Here are several free services to slow and stop the amount of junk mail you receive:

10. Vote

Want to change the world?  Vote Vote Vote Vote Vote.

What if you don’t like the mainstream candidates? Vote anyway! Let the mainstream parties know if you want an alternative.


Share Your Ideas for Social Change

I hope some of these ideas inspire you to take the small steps that add up to big social change. Share your own ideas in the comments. Thank you for reading!


[1]  Fulton, Julian, Heather Cooley and Peter H. Gleick. California’s Water Footprint: Executive Summary, Pacific Institute, Dec. 2012,  http://pacinst.org/app/uploads/2013/02/executive_summary6.pdf. Accessed June 26, 2017.

[2] Collins, Francis. Of Mice, Men, and Medicine, National Institute for Health, Feb. 19, 2013, https://directorsblog.nih.gov/2013/02/19/of-mice-men-and-medicine/. Accessed June 26, 2017.

[3] National Park Service, Things Stick Around,  https://www.nps.gov/teachers/classrooms/things_stick_around.htm. Accessed June 26, 2017.

[4] Many local, state, academic, private, and federal web sites report the same general estimated statistic about trees consumed by junk mail. They seem to be calculations based on statistics from USPS on direct mail deliveries, information about paper use, and census data.  I cannot locate a definitive primary source for the statistic.  However, I am convinced by information in articles like “How Junk Mail is Helping to Prop Up the Postal Service,” that the impact of junk mail is worth addressing. https://stateimpact.npr.org/new-hampshire/2011/09/27/how-junk-mail-is-helping-to-prop-up-the-postal-service/ . Why does direct mail survive anyway, in an age of new media? Because, surprisingly, it works as a differentiating advertising tool: https://thedma.org/marketing-insights/marketing-statistics/direct-mail-statistics/


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