How to support a cause that aligns with your finances and values

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Volunteering for a cause you believe in can be a rewarding experience
When it comes to giving back, you don't have to be rich to make a difference. Whether you give a little or a lot, you can find purpose and meaning in helping others or supporting your chosen cause.
Donating your time, skills, or money to a worthy cause is always rewarding, and there are countless charities from which to choose, but where should you start? The three-step process below can help you guide your efforts:

Step 1: Determine what matters most to you

Before you write a check or donate your time, take time to think about what's most important to you. Maybe you'd like to repay a favor you received earlier in your life or show appreciation for an organization that helped a friend or family member? Do you support a political candidate that reflects your beliefs? Perhaps you're interested in supporting the arts, children's programming, medical research, disaster relief, and hunger prevention. Chances are, you have a personal connection to a particular cause — an issue, disease, or organization that's near (and dear) to your heart. Once you've given it some thought, it will be easier to identify a charity that reflects your values and offers you an opportunity to make a meaningful impact.

Step 2: Select a charity that aligns with your values

Now that you've honed in on the type of charity you'd like to support, the next step is to consider where and how you want to make a difference. Are you interested in supporting a local, national, or global cause? Do you prefer giving to a new, established, large, or small organization?
With the answers to these questions in hand, you can now determine which organizations you want to support with your time and/or money. See the callout below for a list of resources.

Matching your interests

The following sites can help you match your interests to specific organizations:
Tip for would-be volunteers — Be sure to ask about training. Some organizations like you to participate in an orientation session before volunteering. They may also ask you to complete an application and undergo a background check. And remember, even though you likely have the best intentions, it's important that you don't overcommit and find yourself stressed or unable to meet your obligations.

Step 3: Decide how you'd like to support your favorite cause

Volunteer — Non-profit organizations count on volunteers to fulfill their missions, but all too often, they receive numerous requests to help at holidays, and come up short during other times of the year. Giving of your time and talents is always appreciated, but helping others shouldn't be reserved for the holidays. It's important to remember that charities serve the needs of individuals who need help year-round.
Think about how you spend your time and what you like to do. Consider your skills and how much time you can reasonably contribute. This will help you and the charity determine how you can make the greatest impact with your efforts. Visit* or* to explore volunteer opportunities in your area.
Make a monetary donation — It's a good idea to review your budget and determine how much you can give over the course of the year. This will help you direct your giving to a select group of charities instead of responding with a few dollars to every request you get. If your employer offers matching grants for qualified charitable donations, you can magnify the impact of your own donations. Research how the organization uses its funds — that is, how much goes to programs or its mission compared to how much goes to administration and overhead. As a reminder, the Better Business Bureau recommends supporting a charity in which at least 65% of your contribution goes to the charitable endeavor itself.
What causes are important to you?

The perks of paying it forward

Making a child smile? Knowing that you're helping make someone's day better? There's no greater reward. But, there are additional benefits to giving your time, talents, and money to deserving causes.
  • Gain new skills — An added benefit to volunteering your time is the knowledge, skills, and expertise you'll pick up along the way. Think about it — knowing how a soup kitchen schedules its many volunteers is a useful skill that has applicability in many settings.
  • Broaden your perspectives — Without a basis for comparison, it's easy to get mired down in your own "stuff." Seeing the challenges that others face can help you reframe your problems or issues.
  • Expand your social and professional network — There's no greater team-building exercise than working together to serve a common goal. It can be both gratifying and fun!
  • Understand yourself better — When you get out of your comfort zone and try something new, you're better able to understand your preferences and what you're capable of accomplishing.
  • Bolster your self-esteem — Much like the feeling you get after rigorous exercise, many people report a "high" from doing volunteer work.
  • Strengthen your community — Giving back to your community is a great way to show your appreciation for services you have received.
  • Develop a sense of purpose — Knowing that you're making the world a better place through your actions gives your life added purpose and meaning.
  • Feel better — Long-term studies have shown that volunteers live longer, are in better health, have lower rates of depression and less heart disease.
Learn more and take action
  • Visit* or* to explore volunteer opportunities in your area
  • Check out sites like* or* (see complete list in callout above) to match your interests to specific organizations
  • Find out if your employer offers a matching gifts program to make your monetary donation go even farther

* Merrill Lynch is providing web addresses to third-party websites only as a convenience to you. Merrill Lynch and its parent, subsidiaries, and affiliates have no affiliation with this website, and do not control the accuracy, completeness, timeliness or appropriateness of any content, links, or information contained in, or displayed on, the website. Merrill Lynch and its parent, subsidiaries, and affiliates do not explicitly or implicitly endorse or approve, or pay for, or participate in any way in the development of, any content, links, or information contained within, or accessible to or from the third-party website. If you choose to access this third party website, then you will be subject to that website's terms of use, information security, and privacy policies, if any, over which Merrill Lynch and its parent, subsidiaries, and affiliates have no control or influence.