Pretty much everyone wants to make a difference in the world. It’s in our nature as humans to be kind. Whether that’s to one another, the creatures we share the planet with or the planet itself.
The problem is, our lives are busier than ever and it’s tough to find time to take care of ourselves, let alone others.
And when we do manage to carve out a couple of hours to give back in some way, we often find ourselves at a loss about what to do.
Well, as of right now that’s no longer going to be a problem for you. I put together this list to make making a difference as easy, fun and meaningful as possible. I’ve broken it down into categories to make it even easier to find something that resonates with you.
Affiliate Disclaimer: I make a commission if you purchase through a link in this blog post. Thanks!
What Are the Best Ways to Make a Difference?
We all have a cause that we’re passionate about. Something that fires us up and motivates us to get off our butts and do something. For me, it’s the elderly. For Sporty, it’s animals. It might be something else for you.
With that in mind, I’ve included a variety of categories. Have a read through and see what appeals to you. Then, pick something and do it. Oh, and remember to have fun!
- Give children a helping hand
- Help the homeless
- Support the elderly
- Save our wildlife
- Give back to domestic animals
- Make a difference to farm animals
- Do it for our planet
- Be the change online
1. Declutter and Donate
Donate new or gently used clothing, books, toys and so on to organisations that serve children in need. If you have kids, go through their clothes and toys and identify the things they no longer use.
Send a message to friends, family members and colleagues and ask them to declutter and donate, too. You could even make this an annual initiative. Everyone gets to declutter and kids in need benefit. Win/win.
2. Spend Time With Kids in Need
Volunteer at a local children’s home or creche. The simple act of providing emotional support and offering a compassionate ear can make all the difference to children in need of comfort and care. For younger kids, just having someone to play games with can mean the world to them. Sporty and I used to spend time at Cotlands in Johannesburg many years ago. The experience was definitely a mutually beneficial one.
3. Offer Mentorship
Offer to be a mentor or role model to a child in need of support and guidance. Join an organisation like Big Brothers Big Sisters of America and spend quality time with a youth who could use the input and guidance of an adult.
4. Be a Joiner
Participate in community programs that provide educational or recreational opportunities for children in need, such as after-school programs or summer camps. These organisations often arrange outings for their young charges and they can always do with extra help in orchestrating the event.
5. Shout It From the Rooftops
Help spread awareness about the needs and challenges faced by children without families, and encourage others to get involved and make a difference. If there’s a particular organisation or cause you feel could use more airtime, get on the rooftops and shout about it! Or, you know, share it on social media.
6. Sponsor a Child’s Education
According to Children International, many children in poverty leave school without a basic education, and that’s if they’re able to attend at all. Globally, 260 million children aren’t even in school. Sponsoring a child’s education can have a significant impact and it doesn’t even cost that much.
7. Fill Their Tummies
More children than we realise go to school on an empty stomach. That’s no way to learn. Support initiatives like No Kid Hungry or the Peninsula School Feeding Association and help put an end to childhood hunger for good.
8. Make a Santa Shoebox
The Santa Shoebox Project started in Cape Town in 2006. They sent out 180 shoeboxes to disadvantaged children in their first year. They’ve since donated over a million shoeboxes to children in South Africa and Namibia. If you live here, you can make your own and drop it off in person. Overseas patrons can donate a virtual shoebox online.
9. Donate a Desk
Support the Kids in Need of Desks (KIND) fund. Created by UNICEF USA and MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell, this long-running campaign is providing children in Malawi with the support they need to keep learning and thriving.
10. Give School Supplies
Without the proper stationery, it’s hard for kids to do their schoolwork. Supporting initiatives like Operation Backpack and Donors Choose means children get the school supplies they need even if their parents can’t afford it.
11. Soup It Up
Volunteering at a local homeless shelter, soup kitchen or food bank that provides meals to homeless individuals is a rewarding way to give back. Ladles of Love has been feeding Cape Town’s homeless since 2014 and Sporty and I make a point of helping out whenever we live in the vicinity.
12. Donate Essentials
Donate clothing, blankets, toiletries, and other items to organisations that serve the homeless. You could also give these things directly to the homeless themselves. Not everyone agrees with this and while I understand why, I find it difficult to ignore someone who is clearly in need. I guess you’ll have to decide on your approach here.
13. Organise a Fundraiser
Organise a fundraiser or donation drive to support local homeless shelters or organisations. You could raise funds by doing a sports event and asking people to sponsor you, for example. Another option is to bake a bunch of goodies and host a bake sale at your office.
If the kitchen isn’t your happy place, why not make a gift bag and raffle it off? If you have friends in high places (or chutzpah) there’s always the option of asking a hotel to give a free night or two in support of your cause.
14. Support Those Making a Difference
Support organisations that provide mental health and substance abuse treatment services to homeless individuals. The organisations are invariably overworked, overwhelmed and understaffed. You could support them financially with a monthly donation or by offering to volunteer your time with them.
15. Be Compassionate
Be respectful and compassionate towards homeless individuals. It’s important to recognise that they are often dealing with difficult circumstances and are in need of support and understanding.
While it’s probably prudent to not engage with obvious drug addicts or alcoholics, it’s worth remembering that nobody sets out with the intention to become a drug addict living on the streets. We all make bad choices, some have worse consequences than others. We may not always be able to help these people, so the least we can do is not judge them.
16. Inform Yourself
We’re quick to judge, point fingers and make assumptions, usually without knowing the whole story. A better approach is to educate yourself and others on the issue of homelessness, its causes, and its impact on individuals and communities. And then use that knowledge to promote change and make a difference.
17. Make Sandwiches
Another super easy way to contribute is to make some sandwiches and.hand them out on your way to work or when you’re out for a walk. It depends where you live of course, but here in South Africa for example, homelessness is a big issue. We’re always running into people asking for a handout.
18. Host a Street Store
There are plenty of much-needed food initiatives for homeless people, but finding clothing to wear is an ongoing problem. By hosting a Street Store you not only help fulfil a very real need, you do so in a way that lets people retain their dignity.
19. Buy Someone a Bed for the Night
The Haven Night Shelter’s buy a bed campaign gives the recipient access to a warm meal and a bed for the night. This is a great way to make a difference to someone and support the organisation.
20. Support Big Issue Vendors
Since 1997, the Big Issue has sought to support homeless, marginalised and unemployed people in Cape Town to earn a living. Buying a magazine helps someone support themselves and even their family.
21. Hang Out With the Oldies
Volunteer at a retirement home or assisted living facility. Sadly, a lot of people put their elderly relatives in a home and then rarely go back to visit them. This could be due to any number of factors, so it’s important not to judge.
Instead, offer your time to visit with oldies and break up the monotony of their days. If you’re feeling it, you could even take them out for tea or a meal.
22. Offer Your Support
Support organisations that provide assistance to elderly individuals in need, such as NOAH and Meals on Wheels or elder abuse prevention programs. MOW does phenomenal work and volunteering with them is especially gratifying. See what organisations are in your area and find out how you can get involved.
23. Drive Miss Daisy
Offer to provide transportation for elderly neighbours or relatives who may have difficulty getting around. Let’s face it, we don’t want old folks behind the wheel, but what if there’s no reliable public transport where they live. Or, maybe they’re too frail to manage a solo bus ride. Having someone drive them places will be a huge help and it’ll brighten their day.
24. Sit a While
Make time for conversation and companionship with elderly individuals who may be lonely or isolated. These folks often have nobody to talk to. Everything they hear comes from the TV. Having someone to enjoy a regular conversation with can make a huge difference to their wellbeing. Plus, they often have really interesting stories to share about their lives.
25. Do Their Chores
Some seniors might not be up for your offer to drive them places. Maybe they’re too old or infirm or whatever. They probably still need assistance, though. You could help with household chores and errands, such as grocery shopping, cleaning or attending to other tasks around the house.
26. Get Social
Organise social events and activities for seniors in your community, such as game nights, movie screenings or talent shows. When you’re old and isolated your days can easily end up melding into one another. Giving the elderly something to look forward to that also breaks up their routine is an excellent way to give back in your community.
27. Share Your Skills
Share your skills and expertise with seniors who may be interested in learning something new. Teaching them to be more tech-savvy can be especially useful. It can help them with simple things like talking to family overseas or even managing their banking online. It also has the added benefit of allowing them to feel empowered.
28. Be Patient
Be patient and understanding. The elderly sometimes have difficulty communicating or they may move more slowly than others. We need to exercise compassion and keep in mind that we’ll very likely find ourselves in a similar situation someday.
29. Support Conservation Organisations
There are numerous organisations dedicated to protecting the planet’s wildlife and their habitats. You can support their efforts by donating money, volunteering your time, or advocating for their cause. Be sure to do your due diligence to ensure you’re supporting a legit charity.
30. Plant Native Species
Planting native species in your garden can provide a habitat for local wildlife and help support biodiversity. If you have the space, adding a backyard pond is hugely beneficial for the environment. Creating a bee-friendly garden is another surefire way to secure your spot in heaven. If you don’t believe in heaven do it anyway, the bees will thank you.
31. Buy Products That Support Wildlife Conservation
This one’s easy. You’re out shopping anyway, so just look for products that support wildlife conservation, such as those that are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) or Rainforest Alliance.
32. Help Put an End to Poaching
Poaching has had a devastating impact on wildlife populations. We need to do everything we can to eradicate it. Most people know this, but I’ll say it anyway. Avoid buying products made from endangered species, such as ivory or rhino horn. And support organisations like the International Anti-Poaching Foundation to continue doing the work they do.
33. Participate in Citizen Science
Citizen science projects, such as bird counts or butterfly surveys, can help scientists better understand wildlife populations and their needs. It’s also a fun project for the whole family!
34. Lobby for Wildlife Protection
Advocate for the protection of wildlife by contacting your elected officials and asking them to support conservation measures. It’ll probably take more than just asking, but if you put your shoulder into it and really get on their case, you may just see results. It’s worth the effort if you have the bandwidth. Take a look at the results World Animal Protection has achieved.
35. Pledge for Our Planet
Take the World Wildlife Fund’s Pledge for Our Planet. Deforestation, overfishing and illegal wildlife trade are just some of the conservation challenges our planet is facing. As the WWF points out: our impact on the planet primarily comes from what we eat, what we buy, how we power our homes and how we travel from place to place.
36. Adopt, Don’t Shop
Adopt a pet from a shelter or rescue organisation instead of buying from a breeder or pet store. The above stats are reason enough to go this route, but why go to the expense of buying an animal when you can adopt one instead? Yes, there are adoption fees, but they’re not that much. Besides, you can’t put a price on saving a life.
We adopted Miles Pudding Cat for R950. The joy he’s brought into our lives is at least a gazillion times that. I mean, how adorable is this kitty?
37. Give Them the Snip
Spay or neuter your pets to help prevent overpopulation and reduce the number of animals in shelters. If your unsterilised female pupper accidently gets herself knocked up (it happens), you’ll have to find homes for a bunch of puppies.
Even worse, if your unneutered male accidentally gets out (it happens) there’s a good chance he’ll knock up someone’s else’s pooch and you won’t know. Not cool.
38. Volunteer at an Animal Shelter
Volunteer at a local animal shelter or rescue organisation to help care for animals and assist with adoption events. No, this isn’t easy. Seeing so many animals cooped up in cages and in desperate need of love and attention can tug really hard on the heart strings. It’s definitely worth it, though. If you have it in you, these places will welcome the extra help.
39. Donations Are Welcome
Not everyone is up for volunteering their time at an animal shelter. (I hear you, I only lasted a few months before coming home with Miles.) That’s okay, there’s always the option to donate money, food, toys, and other supplies to animal shelters and rescue organisations. A super easy way to donate is to head over to Amazon or Takealot and have pet food delivered to your shelter of choice.
40. Foster an Animal
Shelters are usually short on space and rely on people to temporarily foster animals until they can be adopted by a permanent family. Very often, it’s the special needs animals who aren’t coping with shelter life that need to be fostered. If you can bear the thought of having to say goodbye at a moment’s notice, you’d be making a world of difference to someone’s life.
41. Advocate for Responsible Pet Care
Educate others about the importance of responsible pet ownership, such as proper nutrition, exercise, and healthcare. People often forget that animals are sentient beings, with their own likes and dislikes. They’re not merely something we own, like a car or a vase. Share your thoughts (in a non-combative way) on social media or your blog, if you have one.
42. Be Their Voice
Report animal abuse or neglect to local authorities or animal welfare organisations. More and more countries are taking a hard stance against people who abuse animals. If you see someone hurting an animal or neglecting an animal in their care, speak up. If you come across puppy mills or animal fighting, let the relevant authorities know. The only way to put an end to these atrocities is if we do something.
43. Happy Pets
Ensuring your pets are happy is a wonderful (and super easy) way to make a difference. Make sure they’re happy and healthy by providing them with love, attention and proper care. They’re as much a part of the family unit as the humans, so it follows that they deserve the same respect. Also, happy pets make for a happy family.
44. Support Cruelty-Free Brands
There are at least 115 million reasons to stop animal testing. It’s cruel and unnecessary and the only way to put an end to it is to vote with our wallet. Choose to support brands that don’t test their products on animals and boycott the ones that do.
45. Don’t Give Animals as Gifts
Animals are living beings. They’re a huge responsibility and inviting one into your home and family needs careful consideration. Making that decision for someone else isn’t okay. If you really want to give someone a gift, buy them vegan-friendly almond butter cups.
46. Adopt a Plant-Based Diet
Choosing to eat a plant-based diet can reduce the demand for meat and animal products, such as dairy and eggs. It’s also better for your health. (Don’t worry, there are plenty of good quality protein sources available, so you won’t wither away.)
47. Support Those Making a Difference
48. Highlight the Negatives
Educate others about the conditions on factory farms and the importance of choosing humane and sustainable food options. While many people know and choose to ignore the plight of factory-farmed animals, some people simply aren’t aware. Sharing the ills of factory farming can have a huge impact. Your Daily Vegan has a list of must watch documentaries on the subject.
49. Put On Your Gum Boots
Volunteer at a local farm sanctuary or animal welfare organisation that works to protect farm animals. Unless you’re helping out with admin, this will likely be a messy job. But who cares, you’re helping make cows happy again. And sheep and pigs and goats and chickens and…
50. Never Eat These Foods
Veganism isn’t for everyone. I used to eat meat, so I can’t exactly get up in my stuff about it. If you’d rather eat an omnivorous diet, go for it. But, definitely steer clear of eating these foods: milk-fed veal, frog legs, foie gras, crustaceans, live sashimi and shark fin soup.
51. Reduce Your Carbon Footprint
Reduce your carbon footprint by conserving energy, using public transportation, driving an electric or hybrid vehicle or walking or cycling more. The latter two suggestions have the added benefit of positively impacting your health.
52. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
Don’t immediately upgrade or replace an item. If it works, keep it. If it’s broken, fix it. And if it’s broken and you can’t make it work again, see if there’s another way to make use of it. Upcycling isn’t just for dreadlocked hippies.
53. Try Shopping Package Free
If you have a package-free grocery store in your neighbourhood that you’ve yet to visit, why not give it a try. Yes, it takes longer than regular shopping, but it’s actually a lot more fun. You’d be amazed how much unnecessary packaging you can avoid by doing this.
54. Avoid Single-Use Plastic
Avoiding single-use plastic is an awesome way to help the environment and the many creatures we share it with. It’s not always easy, but it’s definitely doable. It essentially means avoiding convenience items like food that’s pre-packaged into portions.
55.Make an Eco-Brick
As much as we’d like to completely avoid single-use plastic, it’s not always possible. We’re humans living in the 21st century. Rather than throw it in the trash, stash your non-recyclable plastic in a plastic bottle and make an eco-brick.
56. Say No to Fast Fashion
Buying secondhand clothes is also exceptionally good for the environment (and your budget). It also means less business for fast fashion outlets. According to the World Wildlife Fund, the fashion industry is the second-largest polluter of freshwater globally.
57. Shop Local
Supporting local businesses supports the local economy. Shopping locally is another way to reduce your carbon footprint, because you’re not buying imported goods that require long-distance shipping to get to you. You’re also supporting job creation in your community.
58. Reduce Your Water Usage
Water is a finite resource. Reduce your water usage by taking shorter showers, fixing leaks and collecting rainwater for outdoor use. And no, installing a borehole isn’t the solution.
59. Farmers’ Markets #FTW
Support sustainable agriculture by buying organic, locally grown produce at your local farmers’ market. Eating what’s in season is good for the planet and your body. Plus, it’s cheaper.
60. Renewable Energy
Support renewable energy by purchasing solar panels or supporting policies that encourage clean energy development. The more we opt for alternative energy sources, the less dependent we’ll be on coal.
61. Keep It Clean
Use environmentally-friendly cleaning products that are non-toxic and biodegradable. A lot of them you can actually concoct at home. White vinegar and bicarbonate of soda make an epic team when it comes to cleaning toilets and drains and numerous other things.
62. Grow a Forest
Plant trees and support reforestation efforts to help absorb carbon dioxide and reduce the effects of climate change. A lot of companies nowadays are planting trees as a way to give back. Look out for them and make sure you support their efforts by giving them your business. Alternatively, support a charity like Greenpop.
63. Eat More Veggies
Reduce your meat consumption or switch to a vegetarian or vegan diet to reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with livestock production. Yes, I’m repeating myself. It’s deliberate.
64. Bring Your Own Bags
Use your own bags when you go shopping. If more of us did this one thing there’d be a lot less plastic in the landfill and the ocean. But don’t stop there, take your own fresh produce bags as well.
65. Join Earth Hour
Join Earth Hour by switching off and giving an hour for Earth. It’s celebrated on the last Saturday of March at 8.30pm local time. Spend the 60 minutes doing something positive for our planet.
66. Spread Awareness
Spread awareness about important causes and issues by sharing educational resources, articles and positive news stories on social media. Social media is also a great tool to help amplify voices that are often silenced, such as those from marginalised communities.
67. Sign and Share Petitions
Adding your name to online petitions and sharing that you’ve done so wherever you hang out online helps the cause in question to gain momentum. You can look for petitions to support at places like Care2.com and Change.org.
68. Be a Beacon of Positivity
Share positive messages of hope and inspiration to uplift others online. You don’t have to get Pollyanna about it, but sharing happy memes, thoughtful quotes or uplifting photos or stories on social media has the potential to make someone’s day.
69. Volunteer Online
Volunteering in person is always first prize. We humans need interaction anyway and it’s especially powerful when we come together for good. However, not everyone has the capacity for that. Volunteering your skills online is still worth doing. you can find opportunities on Do Something.
70. Get Creative
Create online content that educates and inspires others, such as blog posts, videos, or podcasts. If enough people use their creativity for good, we’ll eventually drown out the bad news noise. Make no mistake, people enjoy and welcome content that’s uplifting, particularly when it’s executed with creative flair.
71. Check the Facts
Take care to fact-check information and sources before sharing them online, in order to prevent the spread of misinformation. We’ve all done it. We get caught up in the drama of a story we read online and share it without knowing all the facts. Let’s try not to do this.
72. Leave Google Reviews
Leaving reviews on Google Maps is such an awesome way to make a difference online. It’s fun, it’s easy, it benefits the business or place and it helps future visitors. Talk about many carrots, one knife! According to this writer it’s a strangely beautiful experience.
73. Leave Reviews on Amazon
Leaving reviews on Amazon (or your online shopping portal of choice) is equally helpful. More often than not, reviews are the deciding factor when weighing up a product to purchase. How cool that you can help someone make the right purchase and give kudos to a brand at the same time.
74. Be Nice or Be Constructive
It’s important to remember Thumper’s Mom’s words of wisdom in Bambi, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t highlight poor service or a subpar product, you just don’t have to be mean about it. Remember to share your good and not so good experiences. Humans are quick to complain and not so quick to compliment. Telling people when they’re doing a good job doesn’t cost anything.
75. Be a LinkedIn Linchpin
If you come across posts by people who are looking for work, make a point of sharing their posts with your followers. Even giving it a like can help extend its reach. Another option is to write reviews for past and present colleagues.
Be supportive of what others are sharing. And if you don’t agree, think carefully before getting in the ring. It’s not always worth it (or necessary) to share your opinion online.
76. Encourage People to Take a Digital Sabbatical
I get it, you’re telling people to unplug from social media on social media. Cue Alanis Morissette. Find a fun, eye-catching way to tout the benefits of taking a digital sabbatical. For example, you could challenge everyone to a no phone morning routine for 30 days.
It might not be an obvious way to make a difference, but the ones who stick with the challenge will notice the benefits. Not only that, the people close to them will notice the difference as well.
77. Go on a New Fast
I think we can all agree that there’s just too much news and most of it isn’t good. It’s easy to get caught up the drama of the latest event, but it’s not good for our mental or physical wellbeing. Going on a news fast is good for you and the people around you.
What Is Making a Difference Exactly?
The Merriam-Webster dictionary offers these definitions:
: to cause a change : to be important in some way
: to do something that is important : to do something that helps people or makes the world a better place
Making a difference is all of that for sure, but it’s also fun, rewarding, eye-opening and thought provoking. It’s a precursor for gratitude and an opportunity to make your best self proud.
How Can Making a Difference Benefit You?
Being kind makes us feel good, and science agrees. Kindness can reduce stress and improve your health and wellbeing. It has the potential to increase resilience and empathy. And finally, it can instil a sense of trust and connection.
According to the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation, kindness is also contagious and teachable. This means you can inspire others to make a difference through your actions. In terms of bang for buck, kindness is the bomb. It benefits the doer (you), the receiver, and whoever observes the act of kindness.
Making a Difference FAQs
By now you’re probably chomping at the bit to get out there and do some good. That’s awesome! Have a quick glance through our FAQs section anyway. You never know, it might spark inspiration or highlight something you didn’t know.
How do I know if a charity or organization is legit?
Check that the charity or organisation is registered with the appropriate government agency in their country. Look for third-party endorsements on places like Charity Navigator, GuideStar, and GiveWell. Legitimate charities and organizations should have clear financial records and be willing to disclose how they use their funds. They should also have a board of directors or trustees that oversee their operations. Finally, go old school and Google them.
Can small actions really make a difference?
This quote from polar explorer and environmentalist Robert Swan highlights the importance of taking action, regardless of how small it may seem. It reminds us that we all have a role to play in protecting our planet and more importantly, that we shouldn’t wait for someone else to do it for us.
The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it.
What are some examples of people who have made a difference?
Sometimes, seeing what others have done can motivate us to give back in some way. You can take a look at this post on kids making a difference or look for stories of people doing good online. It’s also worth reading up on past heroes like Mahatma Gandhi, Rosa Parks and Nelson Mandela and present-day activists like Greta Thunberg and Malala Yousafzai.
How can I motivate others to make a difference?
Probably the best way to motivate others is to lead by example. Nobody likes a bossy pants, so avoid telling people they “should” do something. As Stephen Covey said:
What you do has far greater impact than what you say.
It’s Time to Get Out There and Do Some Good
There you have it, a whopping 77 ways to make a difference in the world. Whether you choose to focus your efforts on wildlife, the environment, children, the elderly or any of the other categories mentioned above, is up to you.
The important thing is that you make a difference in whatever way you can. Online, in person, it doesn’t really matter. Of course it’s nice to be a part of a group initiative, but not everyone has the time for that. Do what you can! And encourage your friends and family to do what they can, too.
Together, we can make this world a better place!