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Want to make a difference? Three ways to get started.

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It doesn’t have to take much. Here are some ‘low cost’ and ‘low time commitment’ ideas for giving back.

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This column is the first in an occasional series about how you, too, can make a difference. It is written by the head of our partner organization UniversalGiving, which is dedicated to helping people give and volunteer.

While we live in a “go-getter world” where people are striving for more money and higher prestige, many of us still want to give.

However, wanting to give is not enough. The important thing is actually doing it. It doesn’t have to take a lot of time. Every positive action makes a difference, both in your life and in others’.

Are you ready to get started? Here are some “low cost” and “low time commitment” ideas that can jump-start giving.

1. Say hi to a homeless person

If you don’t have a lot of time but are looking to make a difference, this is it. How many times have you passed a homeless person on the street?

What a difference it would make in that person’s life and yours if you were to smile and say hello. For extra credit, stop and find out his or her name. (Of course, use your best judgment on the street. Be giving, be prudent.)

You might wonder what difference this makes: “It’s only one person. I didn’t do anything to help them.” Don’t underestimate your actions. Now that they feel cared for, they will probably pass on that love to others. That in itself is one of the greatest contributions you can make to society.

This also positively shapes your character. As you practice being more loving, you will see a change in all your relationships. And it only takes a few minutes.

2. Be an online activist and enlist others

If you have only certain times you can give, online activism is a great way to help. There are many ways you can contribute according to your own schedule. In addition, you can inspire others to take action. Just forward them a petition and tell them why it’s important. In two seconds, you could get 20 friends, or 200, to sign.

For example, I just wrote an online letter to an orphan. It expressed my love and support. I did this during some free time at night and sent it through a web form. As a result, an orphan across the world received a message of care. You could also become a pen pal to someone in our military. Hearing a kind word from someone back home means a lot.

3. Volunteer

Volunteering is a common way to have an effect. However, don’t just jump into a volunteer opportunity. Take the time to research what’s out there.

At the same time, don’t put too much pressure on yourself to find the “perfect” cause. When you volunteer, you’ll find out how much you like the mission, activity, and the organization. Then you can assess if you want to commit long-term. Trying different volunteer opportunities is all part of finding out how you can best serve.

Get inspired by your personal experiences. You might have a grandmother you adored, so take up a cause assisting older people. Perhaps a friend struggles with a health issue.

I hope these tips have been helpful. Remember, giving back is opening your eyes to the need right in front of you and getting started.

Pamela Hawley is the founder and chief executive officer of UniversalGiving. She is a winner of the Jefferson Award (the Nobel Prize of community service). She also writes the blog “Living and Giving.”

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