12 Ways to Make a Difference (and Why You Should)

Life is busy. Between work deadlines and family commitments, finding time for volunteering can be tough. In fact, for many of us it’s the last thing we think of when we find ourselves caught up in the daily grind. Time is an issue, but another sticking point for many people is not knowing exactly how they can make a difference either.

Why Doing Good Is Good for You

In their 2013 health and volunteering study, UnitedHealth Group looked at why doing good is good for you. They found that, amongst other things, volunteering helps manage and lower stress levels, gives you a deeper sense of connection to others and helps you feel better—physically, mentally and emotionally.

The act of kindness has positive health benefits. Studies have shown that whether you’re the giver, the receiver or simply someone witnessing an act of kindness, you stand to benefit from the exchange.

Doing good bolsters our immune system and increases production of serotonin in the brain. A naturally-occurring neurochemical, serotonin is well known for its ‘feel good’ qualities. While doctors commonly rely on selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) to treat serotonin deficiency, there are plenty of natural boosters one might consider first.

These include sunshine or light therapy, regular exercise, eating a healthy diet and meditating. And, as mentioned above, performing acts of kindness. Obviously every situation is different and in extreme cases medication may be necessary to treat severe cases of depression.

But how amazing is it that feeling better about life is the happy side-effect of doing good? That’s not to say that an act of kindness should be performed purely for personal gain. Rather, we should view it as one of those wonderful win-win situations, where everyone benefits.

making a difference

1. Become a RAKtivist

The brainchild of the guys at Random Acts of Kindness, a RAKtivist is a kindness ambassador and you’ll find them the world over. From the driver who lets you cut into their lane to the student who held the door open for their teacher and the colleague who surprised you with coffee, these guys are all RAKtivists. Be a world-changer. Apply to become a RAKtivist today!

2. Volunteer at a Soup Kitchen

I know, I know, this old chestnut again. I mention it with good reason though. First, it doesn’t require a lot of time. Ladles of Love, the pop-up soup kitchen I sometimes help out at, typically takes an hour out of my day.

Second, it reminds us how much we have to be grateful for in our own lives. It’s easy to forget how good we have it, especially when we’re run off our feet. These people are so happy to receive a warm bowl of soup and a chunk of bread. Witnessing that is a truly humbling experience.

3. Pledge Your Birthday to Charity: Water

The last thing we need is more stuff in our lives, so why not pledge your birthday to Charity: Water? You could still throw a party and celebrate the occasion, but instead of gifts, everyone could give your age in dollars to a cause that’s changing lives. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?

4. Donate a Santa Shoebox

The Santa Shoebox Project collects and distributes gifts at Christmas time to underprivileged children throughout South Africa and Namibia. From 180 shoeboxes in their inaugural year (2006), the project has set its sights on reaching one million children by 2019!

To get involved you pledge a child online and then make them a personal shoe box. Shopping for and packing the box is a huge amount of fun. It’s also a great way to teach your own kids about the spirit of giving. If you don’t live in South Africa, you can pledge a virtual shoe box.

5. Celebrate National Chocolate Day

Making a difference can also be something as simple as buying chocolate for your colleagues on National Chocolate Day. You could pick any day that appeals to you e.g. Boston Cream Pie Day or Doughnut Day, the point is to do something unexpected for your work pals to let them know you appreciate them.

6. Who Let the Dogs Out?

Animal shelters are always in need of an extra hand. A Saturday morning spent walking a group of excited dogs is, in my opinion, a Saturday morning well spent. Of course, you could also offer to help sweep out cages, clean kitty litter trays or help out in the office doing admin.

7. Spread a Little Old School Love

The Internet is the best, right? You can make friends in faraway places, enjoy face time with your lover when they’re a thousand miles away, share cool news, give kudos to a new restaurant and more. All thanks to the Internet.

But there’s also something to be said for receiving a handwritten letter from an old friend, an unexpected postcard from some exotic destination or a thank you note that arrives by snail mail rather than email. It takes effort to go the old school route. But that’s what makes it so special. You didn’t just hit send, you actually went to the store and picked out a card.

8. Gift a Book

A lot of people still prefer reading an actual book rather than using a Kindle. The problem is, books are expensive and they take up space. And because we’ve spent our hard earned dollars on them, we’re naturally reluctant to part with them once we’ve read them.

The next time you buy a new novel, think about a friend who might enjoy the story as well. Then, when you’ve finished the book you can gift it to them. That way you’ll have had the pleasure of enjoying the story and performing a small act of kindness.

9. Tip Like You’re Bill Gates

Make a habit of tipping large every once in awhile. Even if you’ve never worked as a waiter yourself, you’ll know just from observing them in action that it’s pretty thankless work. Customers can be demanding, picky and impatient on a good day and downright rude the rest of the time.

Leaving an enormous tip will help these guys remember that there are also nice humans in the world. Not to mention, it’ll make their day and help fatten their wallet, which is always welcome.

10. Pay it Forward

Similar in concept to being a RAKtivist, the idea of paying it forward took off following the movie Pay It Forward, starring Kevin Spacey, Helen Hunt and a young Haley-Joel Osment. The pay it forward movement is still going strong and there are lots of ways you can take part.

You could buy coffee for the person behind you in Starbucks, pay for someone’s groceries or visit an elderly neighbour’s house and ask them if they have anything they need repaired.

11. Plant a Tree

Greenpop started in 2010 with a simple goal: to plant 1000 trees in one month. The Cape Town-based NPO has since planted 79,559 trees, providing daily benefits to 350,000 people in three countries.

If you’re unable to join them on one of the many tree-planting events they hold each year, another great option is to gift a virtual tree. Along with a beautifully designed card, the recipient also receives the exact GPS co-ordinates of their tree. Kids in particular, are enthralled by the notion that they have a tree somewhere in Africa that they can locate via Google Earth.

12. Volunteer on a Mercy Ship

A global humanitarian organization, Mercy Ships delivers free health care services to those without access in the developing world. More than just sailing hospitals, Mercy Ships are vessels of hope.

While it does require a time and financial commitment, volunteering on a Mercy Ship is probably one of the most rewarding things you’ll ever do. If that’s not an option for you, there are plenty of other ways to give as well.

10 Tips or Being the Best Volunteer You Can Be
10 Reasons to Volunteer Today
Want to Volunteer at an Animal Shelter?

Photo credit: Thinkstock


Marie W
Marie Wabout a year ago

Thank you for posting.

Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill1 years ago

The rule of reciprocity is from God. You can't out give God! Doesn't matter if you believe in him or not. It's a rule (law), like the law of gravity. When you give it comes back to you.

Clare O'Beara
Clare O'Beara1 years ago

If you are shy, pick up litter and help everyone.

Clare O'Beara
Clare O'Beara1 years ago

Help someone, maybe just a friendly chat with someone left out.

Clare O'Beara
Clare O'Beara1 years ago

What a stupid slogan, nobody has ever become poor from giving. Ireland was kept impoverished for generations by being ordered to give everything possible to the Church. The religion stripped money from widows and children and fathers raising families, either to support bishops and priests in great comfort or to buy land up or to send to Rome to maintain palaces and banks or to ship priests and nuns to Africa to order the poor people there to have lots and lots of children to start a famine to make the developed world give them even more money.

Ellie M
Ellie M1 years ago


Winn A
Winn Adams1 years ago


Janet B
Janet B1 years ago


Lisa M
Lisa M1 years ago


Lisa M
Lisa M1 years ago