How to Give Locally

With so many worthy causes clamoring for your attention — or even just a spot in your email inbox — it can be hard to know the best place to put your charity dollars. One piece of guidance from Laura Vanderkam, author of the best-selling “What the Most Successful People Do” e-book series: “Give locally. It’ll improve your community or neighborhood at the same time that it improves your well-being.” (She’s not kidding about that last part: Studies have shown that giving money away makes people happier than spending it on themselves.) When we asked experts from Tumml, VolunteerMatch, Fundrise and Smallknot — sites dedicated to local giving and investing — to suggest the best sites to find worthy causes in your community, they were delighted to help. 

Julie Lein, who started a nonprofit with Clara Brenner to help find funding for startups meant to improve city living, knows first-hand the power of people donating locally: “At Tumml — an urban ventures accelerator — we're very aware that $1,000 can make a real difference in your local community,” she says. 

Here are eight sites to consider for your next donation: 

1. With public school budgets tight, teachers post here requesting a little help. “It allows people to donate to support classroom projects at public schools in their communities,” says Lein.  Most projects are a few hundred dollars, meaning your largesse could easily buy a color printer, those microscope slides and cover that science museum field trip.

2. Fundrise: Move over Donald Trump. This site lets residents buy shares in local real estate projects for as little as $100. “They can invest in community real estate projects they care about,” says Lein, which means having a hand in shaping the local landscape as well. There currently are several buildings in Washington D.C. on offer.

Keep reading for six more sites. 


3. “Neighborly helps fill the significant gap between the many civic projects that need funding and the limited funding that cities and municipalities can provide,” says Fundrise co-founder Benjamin Miller. “It's a simple way people can contribute to make their cities better.” Some projects on tap: a kids’ playground in New Jersey and a fountain restoration in Kansas City.

4. Clovest: “Clovest allows people to invest in and support the local businesses that mean the most to them,” says Fundrise’s Miller. “The platform helps to build the same kind of direct ties we are trying to establish between communities and their built and commercial environments.” Recent projects: the opening of a café in a D.C. neighborhood arts center and the launch of a new Kombucha drink.

5. Smallknot: This Kickstarter-y site lets shops and restaurants crowdfund directly from their neighbors. The bonus: “It’s in exchange for perks,” says Lein. In one recent campaign, giving $1,000 towards a new brewpub could get you 50 percent off their beer prices for the next seven years. No small suds!

6. ioby: The name stands for “in our backyard” and is meant to be the exact opposite of NIMBY (Not In My Backyard). This site lets neighbors come together to fund local projects like buying and placing bird houses, starting a local garden or beautifying empty lots. “They have always been incredibly focused on neighborhoods and meaningful, local projects,” says Smallknot CEO Jay Lee.  “They are fantastic, passionate people doing good work.”

7. VolunteerMatch: Want to give hours instead of dollars? This site is like for do-gooders: Post a profile showcasing your talents to attract a comely charity, or scan their needs yourself and let them know you’re interested. Who knows? It could be a lifetime match.

8. Kiva Zip: “Kiva Zip is an exciting new experiment in direct person-to-person lending that is already helping thousands of local entrepreneurs realize their dreams,” VolunteerMatch president Greg Baldwin says of the site, which is the first and largest micro-lending site and allows anyone to lend as little as $25 to an entrepreneur in the community or beyond. “I just made my first loan to Indosole, LLC, a small San Francisco footwear business recycling old tires into sandals. Very cool."

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