7 Ways to Volunteer Over the Holidays Without Leaving the House

Kayla Stewart

While many of us want to use the holidays as a time to give back, pulling it off isn’t easy. With end-of-the-year workloads on our plates, relatives in town, and a growing list of gifts to buy—there never seems to be enough time to volunteer (or money to donate) as much as we want during the holidays. Thankfully, many charities are now using technology to make it easier than ever to help others from anywhere in the world–meaning you can give back no matter how busy you are.

We’ve rounded up a few ways you can utilize the power of your smartphone to make the world a better place this holiday season—without getting up from your couch.


Making a cash donation can be overwhelming, especially when you have to figure out how to do the most good with a modest donation. Instead app (iOS only) makes this easy by showing how giving up an unnecessary, inexpensive purchase throughout your day can help a child in need of food, contribute to environmental causes, or support cancer research through regular micro donations.

How it works: Instead allows you to decide what you’re giving up for the day—such as a $4 coffee or a $10 pre-made sandwich—that money then goes to support one or more organizations from hundreds of pre-selected charities. The app keeps track of how much you’ve donated and shows exactly what your impact is, like how many kids were fed because you gave up that cappuccino or the research made possible thanks to your mid-day candy bar funds.

Donate a Photo

You’re taking them anyway, why not put that Instagram-worthy daily selfie toward charity? That’s the idea behind Johnson & Johnson’s Donate a Photo, which matches a dollar to your charity of choice just for taking and sharing a photo online. (And don’t worry—your photos get uploaded to a gallery for other users to browse, but aren’t used for any commercial purposes.)

“With technology, people are given ways to take action regularly,” says Susan Can, senior director of corporate equity and partnerships for Johnson & Johnson. “When there are large-scale disasters, you can feel helpless and want to make a tangible difference but can’t. With Donate a Photo, you can do something right away.”

How it works: If the app seems super simple, that’s because it is. Users are led to a “Help a Cause” screen featuring a host of charities supporting causes like LGBTQ family rights, girls’ access to education, and health education for refugees. Then, you take a photo and share it on the app. For each photo you upload, Johnson & Johnson donates $1 to your organization of choice. Users can see others’ photos on a feed and check out which organizations others are donating to. Since 2013, 3.93 million photos have been donated to support 197 causes.

Johnson & Johnson is fostering even more ways to give back by just going online. Their Giving Tuesday initiative and their partnership with Save the Children make it incredibly easy to make this season’s holidays your most charitable yet.


As you enjoy a mountain of food during the holiday season—as you should—you can also help millions around the world access nutritious meals with ShareTheMeal, a United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) initiative feeding struggling children around the world. And you don’t even have to leave the table!

How it works: Users put their foodie photo-taking skills to use by snapping a photo of their meal and sharing it on social media. With every photo, you can add a donation starting at $0.50 a day to feed children in need in multiple countries, such as Yemen, Haiti, or Syria. While the organization accepts donations as small as $0.50 per day, WFP reports that $3.50 feeds a child for a week, $15 feeds a child for a month, and $182.50 feeds a child for year. Not a fan of sharing your pasta linguine on social media? Not to worry. WFP accepts donations without a picture, too.


In our increasingly cashless society, we may not be dragging chains jars up to Coinstar to donate anymore, but there are still ways you can donate those extra cents—like RoundUp.

How it works: RoundUp is aptly named—it works by rounding up your purchases on your linked debit or credit card to the next dollar amount. The app then donates that change to your organization of choice, like the American Association for Cancer Research or National Aviary. RoundUp app uses Stripe to process payments for added security. Plus, $0.30 here and $0.75 there accumulates to an average of $20 to $30 per month for some terrific organizations.

Charity Miles

OK, technically this one requires you to get off the couch. But if you’re a runner, a walker, or do any other type of physical movement, you can effortlessly convert those steps into support for a cause. The idea for Charity Miles came when avid runner Gene Gurkoff decided he wanted to contribute more than just the entrance fees he paid any time he ran a charity race.

“I started running marathons in 2002 to raise money for Parkinson’s disease research in honor of my grandfather,” Gurkoff said in an email. “I always wanted companies to sponsor me, but they never would because I’m not a celebrity.” He started thinking about how he might be able to convince big-name corporations to contribute to small-time runners like him. “I thought that if we got enough people together, then companies might sponsor all of us.”

With the advent of the smartphone, Gurkoff saw two things: companies were trying really hard to connect with people digitally, and people were using their devices to track their daily movement. Just like that, Charity Miles was born. Now, Gurkoff says, “We [can] all be sponsored athletes – like the pros but for charity.”

How it Works: For every mile of movement, app users earn money for their charity of choice from Charity Miles’ sponsorship pool. They’ve been able to support organizations like Feeding a Few, the Alzheimer’s Association, and the Wounded Warrior Project.


Who says charity and competition don’t mix? Budge wants you to use a hot dog eating contest, a basketball game, an arm-wrestling match, or whatever wets your competitive appetite, and use the results for good.

How it works: Challenge a friend to any fun competition—a dare, a drinking game, whatever! But with Budge, there are stakes: if they win, you give a small donation to a charity of your choice. If you win, they fork over the funds. The best part? Everyone wins, because a great cause like environmental advocacy or world hunger gets to use the donations to make the world a better place.

Translators without Borders

There are more than 7,000 languages spoken around the world. When crises like the 2015 earthquake in Nepal or the mass refugee displacement in Europe occur, people impacted need communications support, but the people who speak the right languages aren’t always within reach. That’s where Translators without Borders steps in.

The organization works to close language and communication gaps that prevent vital humanitarian and international efforts for people around the world, like locating family members during country conflicts or natural disasters. And if you speak two or more of those 7,000 tongues, you can help.

“We’re virtual, which means [a volunteer] can do it anywhere, anytime,” said Aimee Ansari, executive director of the organization. “We can get people the information they need and want in their own language so that they can understand it and make decisions for themselves and their families.”

How it works: Volunteers work with people that speak an array of languages, from French and Spanish to Farsi, Kurdish, or Yoruba.

Photo by Eric DeLuca / Translators without Borders.

As you get ready for the holiday season, check out these organizations and others that make volunteering modern, easy, and downright fun.