How to turn your spare change into social change

Photo by Editor B

Ladies, we are ready-made philanthropists.

Our desire for connection, our intuition, our energy, our passion – all are vital to helping others succeed and thrive. Plus, by 2010, women will control 60 percent of the wealth in the United States. Put it all together, and you have the perfect recipe for widespread do-gooding.

Oh. Except for that whole recession thing. You know, the one that leaves us scraping under the couch cushions and finding barely enough change for groceries and gas, much less donations.

But here's the good news: We don't have to wait until 2010 to fulfill our philanthropic destiny. In fact, we can make an even greater impact now, when our help is needed most – and we can do it without draining our own pockets.

Consider these five easy ways to channel your inner Carnegie:

1. Give a little to give a lot. Philanthropy doesn't have to be about big, anonymous gifts. Rather, focus on microphilanthropy, which combines small gifts with direct interaction. (Example: This way, you not only make a smaller dent in your wallet, but you also have the pleasure of getting to know exactly who you're helping, how, and with what results.

2. Start a giving circle or club. As we get poorer, entertainment gets more expensive. So ring up your friends and neighbors, break out the extra folding chairs, and start your own giving circle around a common interest, theme, or cause. The benefits: everyone pools their dollars for a bigger contribution, and you get to see all your favorite people -- for free! -- more often.

3. Turn sacrifice into service. We're all cutting corners in some way—foregoing our morning coffee, cooking in instead of eating out, etc. Now you can turn that frugality into a micro-donation. Add one more practice to your routine for a week -- like walking to work instead of taking the bus -- and set aside those few dollars for your favorite charity.

4. Help others keep their lights on. Nonprofits and other donation-driven organizations are taking the recession hard. Consider giving to your favorite group's operating or overhead fund to amplify the reach and depth of your philanthropy. Plus, by keeping them open, you'll help keep the good work going far beyond the recession.

5. Start a rainy-day philanthropy fund. Prefer to make a big donation to your favorite charity, but don't have the funds right now? Open a high-yield savings account dedicated to just that group, and pop in $5 or $10 whenever you have a little extra on hand. Then, when this downturn becomes an upturn, you can send a fat(ter) check to help your cause get back up and running.

The best part of such DIY philanthropy: You walk away feeling like a million bucks while spending far less. And the investment you made in future good with your contributions? Priceless.

This "doing more with less" post was written for a guest host contest for BlogHer's The Juice by Tropicana Trop50.