Can Lazy People Make the World a Better Place?

It’s that time of year when our shriveled hearts grow three sizes larger, and we are filled, quite against our will, with a spirit of fellowship and goodwill towards our whole human family. So sayeth Dr. Seuss, and he is truly our greatest sage.

But actually, despite that certain special something in the air each December, I don’t really believe that the general public is largely disinterested in the welfare of others 11 months of the year. I see a constant desire to do good in people which is thwarted by ingrained daily habits. Call it laziness if you will. But put a big red button in front of someone that says, “make the world a better place — 10 bucks,” and I think a majority of passers-by would give it a push.

People want to do good things, given the opportunity. You just have to make it easy for them. What follows are my suggestions for charitable organizations and their partners, to make it as easy as possible for people to do good.

The Charity Change Box

One of the great strokes of genius in the history of charitable giving must have been the first check-out counter donation box. Imagine the tens or hundreds of millions of people who are handed their change at retail stores, diners and coffee shops each day. Right next to one’s outstretched hand is a can for the local pet shelter, UNICEF or medical research.

Giving physical money literally can’t get any easier than slightly tipping one’s already well-positioned hand towards a conveniently-located receptacle. The impulse to give a little something is enhanced by the preference of most people to carry less change in the first place.

Version 2.0: With so many paying with pre-paid coffee shop cards, debit or credit, isn’t there an electronic equivalent to throwing our change in the box? Sure there is. That high-priced latte ($4.67, with tax)? Just round up the cost to the next dollar and deposit the surplus in the charity of your choice. Once the system becomes commonplace, the question asked by the cashier (or better, by the electronic screen, itself) will simply be, “Do you want your change?” My guess is a good many will say no. And those nickels and dimes will quickly add up. (Note: the person who came up with this idea is Scott Wu, a fellow writer of mine at Terry, years ago.)

Version 3.0: Much of our purchasing these days is done entirely online. But there’s no reason that an online vendor can’t ask you the very same thing at your final checkout. Imagine a world where everybody’s Visa statements held lists of nice round numbers. Eight dollars at Starbucks. Forty-five bucks on EBay. All that digital coinage could be feeding a lot of orphans/rescuing a lot of endangered species.

Pre-Packaged Food Bank Donations

For the longest time I would see those big food bank donation boxes near the exit to my local grocery store. I would finish getting all the items on my shopping list, pay, and then, on my way out, see that big box, and be torn. Because I didn’t want to pass it by, but there was a reason I’d picked up the food I did, and waited in line and paid for it. I was planning on eating it. Finally, someone came up with the solution. Now check-out counters include pre-packaged food gifts for customers to give to the local food bank. Grab one, pay for it with the rest of your groceries, drop it in the box on the way out.

One thing my local grocery store has just started doing this year is offering different “deals” to entice value-conscious givers. A small food gift is two dollars. But for five dollars, shoppers can get so much more food (owing to a larger grocery discount for the five-dollar package), nearly everybody “supersizes” their donation.

Version 2.0: Online retailers might follow suit, asking purchasers at check-out time to browse their pre-packaged gift donations. Partnering with charities of all kinds, an Amazon customer might decide at the last minute to add a week’s worth of clean drinking water to their order, save some homeless kittens from euthanasia. Retailers online and off understand the power of the check-out counter impulse buy, but the impulse donation is just as powerful, and doesn’t saddle a person with a pocket penlight that they don’t really need.

Clothing and Toy Donation Bins

Gently used clothes and toys sitting unused in closets and attics can be put to better use via these wonderful donation bins. Either given directly to those who need them, or sold at a reasonable price with the money going to a good cause, these are a great idea. But for completely reasonable cost and infrastructure reasons, they tend to only be at a handful of locations.

Version 2.0: How about a donationmobile? A handful of trucks might rotate through local grocery store parking lots throughout a city, at least a few times a year. Setting up camp at each location for maybe a few days at a time, this might get people to pulling together some donation items when they might not otherwise get around to it.

And of course, one of the easiest ways you can make a difference is to sign or start an online petition. Luckily, you’re at just the right place for that.


Related Stories:

Feminism For the Holidays! Toy Catalog Swaps Gender Roles

How To Share Your Way To A Debt And Waste-Free Holiday

Are Our Gifts to Charity Good Aid or Just a Band-Aid?


Photo credit: Mikhail Evstafiev


Kathy Perez
Kathy Johnson5 years ago

thanks! I wish I had more to give mone-wise. But i DO have time. And this year I am trying to find something my 3 year old and I can do together. Before his birthday he has to find 3 things that he doesn't play with anymore, to give to kids who don't have such nice toys. He's been looking :) and I think this Thanksgiving we will adopt a family (since we dont cook our meal, we eat with relatives. We can use the money we would normally use to buy OUR dinner, and buy someone else dinner instead) and maybe, if money is okay at Christmas, we can adopt a Christmas Tree Child. Or split one with my mom

Deborah J.
Deborah J6 years ago

I took the title of this article seriously, as I want to help make the world a better place and at my consciously chosen slow pace. Here's my recent favorite practice:

Keep some small-denomination cash on you and don't be so quick to turn away when someone from a worthy organization or cause is selling something you figure you don't need. Pay brief though sincere attention to their spiel, and buy a token something. If you really don't need or want it, give it as a gift. This way you've done some good for several people - one of whom is yourself.

Jennifer U.
Jennifer A6 years ago

This is a great article, it's true that people will do something good when you make it easy for them to do so. The fact that people are lazy about it doesn't matter considering the good that comes out of those actions.

Danuta Watola
Danuta W6 years ago

Interesting article.

Aaron B.
Aaron Bouchard6 years ago

Thanks for sharing

janet T.
janet t6 years ago

It doesn't take much energy or time to write a check to a food bank. And I let my husband do it.

Winn Adams
Winn A6 years ago


Valentina R.
Valentina R6 years ago

I am lazy, but not about animals and environment.

Lynn Squance
Lynn Squance6 years ago

I set ongoing automatic debits from an account for the major donations like the cancer society and the Alzheimer's Society. Once a year I do the Crossroads Hospice. To me, this is the easiest in a cashless society so that I ensure it gets done. I save my "cash" for buying a meal for someone randomly.

Nimue Pendragon

I find the title of this article a bit odd. I see what it's getting at, but I don't really think laziness has much to do with it, I think some people just don't want to donate to charity, and others really can't afford to donate money. If you want to and are able to afford it, nothing could be easier than donating, either money or goods, to any charity. Some charities will come and collect goods from your house, all you have to do is ring. There are heaps of animal charities which have websites, you can buy their goods as a way of supporting them and doing your Christmas shopping, or simply donate money if you want. Personally I donate all my used goods to local charities - once or twice a year do a big clean-out and spend a day dropping off things to each one. I buy from Animals Australia when I can afford to, and once a year donate money to an animal charity. It's not that hard.