The Smart Things to Do For Charity

In the realm of people skills, it seems to me that to do things for charity is generally a much appreciated set of behaviors. This gets me thinking about whether charity activities are truly that good by themselves, or it depends on how exactly you do them.

Some friends of mine recently got involved in some volunteer work, planting trees as part of an ecological project. I respect the intention a lot, but I started wondering about this kind of work in relation with myself: Is this the best thing for me to do for charity? Is using a shovel the best I have to offer?

Let’s look at some of the popular things to do for charity: planting trees, collecting garbage, handing-out flyers, building stuff and feeding people. They all involve a lot of hand work and a blue-collar type set of skills.

Now let’s look at the profile and skills of people who do things for charity: they are often smart, responsible, well educated, and financially stable. They have professional, white-collar type skills like accounting, sales, management, HR, training, PR etc.

Do you see an incompatibility here? These friends of mine I’m talking about, they have some very good professional and people skills. But they do not involve digging, moving heavy stuff or working in the cold. Yet, like a lot of people who do things for charity, they opt for this kind of stuff, instead of something which is connected with their skills.

Why? This, from my perspective, is impractical. If the point of charity activities is to help others as much as you can, then it makes sense to choose things to do for charity which you’re very good at. The smart way to do charity involves these steps:

  • Know your top strengths and skills, know how you can provide the most value;
  • Identify charity activities which make use of these strengths and skills;
  • Do those as charity instead of following the pack.

I know that a lot of times, skilled people end up volunteering in work that doesn’t mach their skills because they believe these are the kind of things which charity is about. But this is a false presumption. You can do charity and help other in a lot of ways.

Think of rock stars that don’t do charity by planting trees, but by doing charity concerts and using their top skills: singing, entertaining. And they raise a tone of money. Think of people who just give money for charity and they spend their time working in something they’re good at, making those money.

My version of doing things for charity is that every once in a while I coach, train or speak for free at different events, for various organizations, on topics gravitating around people skills. This is what I know best. But I don’t go out there moving sacks of cement from one place to another, which a 14-year old could do better than me.

In the area of people skills, doing things for charity is truly a mastered skilled if you do it in the right way, the efficient way. Then, you’re truly helping the people in need to a great degree, instead of just doing stuff so you can feel good about yourself. This is for me, what charity is all about.


  1. I agree, the most valuable contribution you can make is something you’re good at. One of the charities I’ve been involved with assists people to return to the workforce by helping them with their CVs, practicing interview skills, and giving them suitable clothes to wear. This a great way for people with recruitment knowledge and experience to make a very valuable contribution. And besides, I’m pretty hopeless at planting trees!

  2. Hey Eduard – I know what you mean with this. For me, I never really understood the whole run a marathon for charity thing. Perhaps it’s partly a social thing? Thanks for the great read.

  3. @Topi – that example makes a lot of sense to me. That’s how you really help people through your skills.

    @Albert – I think sometimes charity is also a social thing, especially for public figures. Or rather a PR thing. And in this case, other factor than the actual help you’re providing start to matter a lot more.

  4. Hi Eduard.

    It is certainly the case that charitable help doesn’t need to be hyped up to be effective. The regular type isn’t probably called charity, though, but is not really labeled. Usually, when one puts in the effort to label something and get their name behind it and so on, the focus is not as much on the charity. Time can be spent helping someone for a charitable cause, or time can be spent figuring out how to use victims of the charity(I understand there are alternates to this).

    Passing on skills is underrated. People think of it as useless or such until someone starts getting profit for their efforts, and then people suddenly see it as a useful endeavor.
    .-= Armen Shirvanian´s last blog ..Don’t Take Someone For Granted =-.

  5. Charity is about sharing the gifts we have – whatever they happen to be. Thanks for this reminder.


  6. Perhaps it all culminates in our intentions. If we participate in any charity cause, irrespective of our matching skills, and our intention is to feel good about ourselves, then the essence of charity is defeated. However, if our intention is to truly help, then our nobility will palpitate in the hearts of the people we reach. 🙂

  7. @Armen – I think a lot of people make a PR thing out of charity, and this is why they go for the hyped kind of charity. And you’re right: that’s not what it’s about.

    @Alex: very well said: sharing the gifts we have.

    @Walter – intention is very important here. I would like to see more people use their skills to help other with an intention focused more on others than on themselves.

  8. I think that there are various ways to express how we would like to be in service to others. I happened to have the same preference as you. I volunteer my writing services to a non-profit organization. However, that said, I wouldn’t mind planting a tree on the rare occasion. I also do not enjoy hyped-up charity events. I almost never attend such functions unless I have compelling reasons to. My observations are that there are many volunteers trying to spend time helping the poor or sick but don’t do enough to address their own personal issues.
    .-= Evelyn Lim´s last blog ..Use The Pink Bubble Technique for Creative Visualization =-.

  9. Eduard –

    I couldn’t agree more with this post. I used to organize big volunteer events for my old company and always balked at accountants and consultants painting walls. I changed the game by bringing in skills based training and pro-bono consulting projects to use the skills on offer ten times more effectively. Now I have my own coaching practice, I coach and mentor entrepreneurs starting social enterprises and charity to use my best skills and give back. Great article.

    .-= Phil – Less Ordinary Living´s last blog ..How to Keep Going =-.

  10. @Evelyn – seems smart.

    @Phil – I’m imagining accountants and consultants painting walls.right now. Funny image. :))

  11. Interesting discussion. I agree that you can best contribute by utilizing your unique set of skills – no doubt. However, one needs to remember that the people in need of charity is quite often still on the physiological need on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. They want the food, water, and houses. So yes, I would contribute my unique set of skills, but contributing my time by shoveling or handing out soup is often what those people need most, and need immediately. My advice, contribute anything and everything where you can, within your skills mix, but not limited to it.

  12. It’s good that you’re oriented towards helping those people in need, either using your best skills or not. I think that’s a good point to start from. I probably wouldn’t help people by shoveling, but I would pay someone to do it, which would be much better at this task than me.

  13. I agree with this to an extent. But I think it also depends on a) how much time you have to offer and when you have to offer it and b) what the actual needs for the agency are.

    I think a big reason these 1-day-at-a-time anyone-for-the-job volunteer opportunities are available is because they don’t take much training effort from the volunteer coordinator and they are easy for people to drop in/drop out of. If someone doesn’t show up, it’s not a make or break deal as it would be if someone was carrying a project with their special skills. Managing volunteers is often time-consuming and they don’t always show up, perform or deliver a project as promised so I can understand agencies being willing to hand over some projects to volunteers.

    Also, while I volunteer within animal welfare pretty regularly, it’s also the same field as my paid-job so I don’t always like to the do the same stuff I do at work. Sometimes I like just walk in and monotask in a simple job in the way I can’t at my paid-job. Sometimes I like to do something the agency or group actually needs – i.e. at my community garden sometimes I’m happy to work on animal-related jobs and other times I just want to walk in and handle compost instead because that’s what they *need* and it doesn’t matter if a doctor, lawyer, bus driver or I do the task.

    I do agree though, that it should be something you feel good about doing!
    .-= jesse.anne.o´s last blog ..Outfit post: Invisible Purse =-.

    • I get your point about helping important people in your life with what they need, not what you’re best at. I think there are at the same time, better ways of doing this than working on something you’re not very skilled at.

      On the other hand, if you’re doing charity so you will feel good and you reach this goal… 😉

  14. I feel not dong any harm to anybody and helping them who are in need in what ever way it is possible for us is a good job.

  15. hippie the hippo says:

    nice read. I totaly understand what you mean.:)

  16. A fantastic blog and you clearly listed the ‘smart’ things to do. You should post online more? any chance of seeing some examples of your articles?


  17. Interesting read! I’ve been pondering very similar thoughts on “charity” and whether or not it really “HELPS” those in need.

    Over the last couple years (with the economy in the dumps) I’ve seen more and more “non-profit” organizations popping up. Not sure if this is truly for the sake of charity, or perhaps for the simple reason that you have another resource for revenue: DONATIONS!

    I’ve always thought about the hundreds of folks who participate in the following “charitable events”: walking, car wash, dinner parties. I really don’t see how these are the “most effective” use of the resources available. It takes thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours to put together a successful dinner event or walkathon; if these dollars and hours were just put directly into “the cause” we could probably wipe out hunger, obesity, child abuse, and/or any other cause one might come up with.

    Car washes just seem to yield such a small amount of CASH and for the amount of time the children spend they’d all do better to have businesses sponsor a DAY OF CLEANING around town (xx amount for each worker) and have the kiddos spend the day cleaning up the town so they still learn the concept of “earning your own way”–and business owners and the city all benefit.

    I’m really getting a bit fed up with 9 out of 10 charities. Your thoughts?

  18. I love Eduard’s idea of gifting charities with consulting within his area of expertise. I also have seen individuals who want to do “anything but!” what they do in their day job when they volunteer. And the comments about managing volunteers who may or may not show up can be sadly true, especially when it’s a one-off project for a large number of people.

    We’re finding that allowing volunteers to offer their passion — whatever that is — works very well. We’ve had volunteers who negotiate complex intergovernmental relations for us, volunteers who do leadership development among teens, volunteers who tutor, who coach, who handle our switchboard, who organize food on pantry shelves. The most recent team fundraised support then over two weeks completely re-did the games room in our Boys & Girls Club. You can see pictures on Facebook at Salvation Army Boys & Girls Club.

    All that just to say: volunteers can do amazing things. But you really do need to help them find the right fit, for them and the organization.

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