How to Change the World When Money’s Not An Option

Making a difference is easier than ever before — especially if you don’t have money.

Are you broke but still want to change the world?

You're not alone. Luckily, making a difference is easier than ever before — especially if you don't have money. Because, in 2018, money is just one of many currencies. Are you good at social media? Perhaps you've got great organizational skills, or you love doing trail work. Your skills can make just as much of an impact as a donation, and in many cases even more. And changing the world starts right where you are, in your local community.

I should know. I started as a volunteer in my organization, and we now rely on hundreds of volunteers to make our nonprofit function effectively.

Nonprofits are the backbone of our city. Here's what I mean: Our taxpayer dollars are limited to funding government-approved projects, which leaves many sectors that are important to societal health and well-being wanting for more. Take mental health, for example. We live in a society where mental health issues go untreated more often than not, mostly due to a lack of accessible treatment. Why, you ask? Well, Medicaid payments are lower than those of most private insurance companies, and mental health providers who are willing to take Medicaid have to wait a long time for government approval. The result: Only about 40 percent of mental health providers accept Medicaid. That translates to too few providers and not enough appointments. Enter Portland nonprofits, which provide advocacy, free outpatient services, support groups — the list goes on.

Where the government is lacking, nonprofits pick up the slack. Service-oriented nonprofits fill operational gaps, in both the city and the state. Policy-oriented nonprofits influence change in governmental attitudes and lawmaking, providing a solid foundation for the service-oriented nonprofits to do the work they need to do. Education-oriented nonprofits change cultural perspectives about the issues these other nonprofits are working on. There are many other types of nonprofits, but the point is this: The nonprofit sector is a massive, thriving ecosystem that works together to make America a better place every day. But, just like in the natural world, that ecosystem is only happy and healthy when it has all the necessary inputs to keep it running smoothly. Enter you, the volunteer.

Nonprofits are filling the holes in society, and volunteers are the workforce that makes that possible. Due to limited funding and budgetary restrictions (it seems we're all a little broke these days), nonprofits are understaffed and therefore don't have the ability to keep things functioning at prime capacity. That's where volunteers who really care about the cause come in: They're the ones who keep the ball rolling.

Nonprofits need your time, your skills, your professional expertise, your connections, your secret magical powers — from tax law to trail hiking to Twitter. Somewhere there's a nonprofit in desperate need of something you're great at. They're just waiting for you to show up and offer it to them. Changing the world can start right here, right now, in your own community.

I work for Free Geek, an organization that could not function without its volunteers. Nearly everyone who works at Free Geek depends on a team of volunteers to make it possible for us to accomplish our work. Not only that: Many of us volunteered at Free Geek first, before joining the staff. Volunteers help us thank donors, put on monthly events, do basic data entry, and manage much of the administrative day-to-day work that is needed. Volunteers are the capital that allows us to improve, and they propel our mission forward.

Moral of the story: Without its nonprofits, Portland would crumble. And without volunteers, so would the nonprofits. My question for you is this: Do you want to keep sitting on your couch and feeling helpless about the current state of our country, or do you want to #ShowUpIRL and make a difference?

#showupirl and make a difference.

Connect with some of Portland's most impactful non-profits at 

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