Small Ways to Effect Big Change in your Community and Beyond

Kira Cook

Every time there is a natural disaster, mass shooting, or some other appalling form of national crisis, we now see the rush to help – on the news, online, in our social media feeds. Oftentimes (always?), yet another crisis is yet another way of being made to feel helpless, as though nothing you do really matters. Of course, this is not true, but it’s challenging to uphold the belief that one voice is the dissent that breaks the chain (see: Greta Thunberg, mobilizing millions and holding thousands of politicians accountable). 

However, the main form of “helping” seems to be in the incredibly impersonal method of donating money. Of course, money talks – non-profit organizations literally thrive on the donations from the many so that they can aid those in need, but if you are looking for a way to truly effect change on a smaller, more grassroots, intimate level, read on for some easy ways to do so. 


Make a difference in your community by mobilizing your own personal community. Chances are, you belong to some type of organization. Maybe it’s an activities-based organization, or a belief-based organization, or a school, or a parent group. Take this one community and be the leader of a donation to pool for a single person in need. Donating to “causes” and “groups” are effective, of course, but you don’t necessarily see the fruits of your efforts – a truth that can consciously or subconsciously keep people from making donations. Instead, find a recipient who is in need right now – maybe that’s a person in your larger community who needs a surgery but lacks health insurance to afford it, or maybe it’s a recent immigrant who has nothing but the things s/he could carry to this country. 

Be your own personal “GoFundMe” by letting everyone in your community know, via text, email, or social media, that you’re personally raising funds for this one particular person. People are more likely to donate to someone they know than a general cause, and this fact can move mountains, if everyone’s willing to do work at it.

I recently mobilized a small donating campaign for a mother and her daughter who crossed the border to get to America for safety and health reasons. I found her through Immigrant Families Together, a small grassroots organization that helps recent immigrants to Los Angeles and beyond get adjusted – with driving services, meal dropoffs, doctor visits, lawyer fees, and more. This woman was selling roses on the side of the road for $10 or $20 a day (she couldn’t work because she needed papers to do so, which takes months or years), and that was supposed to sustain her and her daughter, living in a decrepit boarding house with a bunk bed and a mini-fridge. I put out a call to arms in my mom’s group and we raised enough money for a deposit on an apartment for her, in addition to bags of new or gently used clothes and toys for her and her daughter. This took minimal time, was aided by Venmo, and even involved the children in our mom’s group because one afternoon we gathered at a park and made drawings for the mom and her child, welcoming them to America. 

Find families in need of your support at

Waves for Water

Do what you love and help along the way. The Waves for Water mission is a simple one - access to clean water is a basic human right. Their organization offers a variety of programs to suit unique needs. Going on a surf trip to Nicaragua? Take some filters with you. Business trip to India? Filters will fit in your carryon. Yoga retreat in Thailand? Toss some filters in your bag. Their courier program was designed to fit into your travel plans and add some good along the way. Not feeling adventurous? There are still tons of ways to help on the ground.

Be My Eyes

This new and free app is a volunteer-based service that connects blind and low-vision people with the sighted for visual assistance through live video calls. Let’s say you have some free time while you’re at home, cooking or cleaning, etc. You simply turn on the app and if there is a blind or low-vision person out there in the world who needs help seeing something in their immediate sphere, you help them via a call through the app. The assistance might involve checking expiration dates on a food item, sorting through colors of something, or navigating whatever their environs are at the moment. Download it today!

Surfrider Foundation

When we see what we love in trouble, we act. And we win. Our ocean, waves and beaches belong to all of us and it is our job to protect them. The Surfrider Foundation is dedicated to the protection and enjoyment of the world's ocean, waves and beaches through a powerful activist network. They are the boots on the ground who collaborate on both the local and national level. So regardless of where you live, there are always ways to get involved in a cleanup, supplies donations or writing letters to your Congressmen.

The Spring: Charity Water

So far, 40, 412 people have received clean water thanks to this foundation. This company funds water programs in 27 countries around the world where water scarcity, poverty, and political instability contribute to a lack of clean water for its citizens. Sustainability is a key interest of theirs, and they employ cloud computing technology  to assess their water system performance. You can see real stories of the people they’ve helped on their site, and it is incredibly easy to set up a monthly donation that auto-deducts from your account, ensuring that every month, you know you’re helping tens to hundreds of people with your donation, no matter how paltry that number may seem in the grand scheme of things.

Boys & Girls Club of America

Imagine a place where who you are, where you're from or the circumstances that surround you don’t determine your access to experiences or opportunities. Boys & Girls Clubs are making that vision a reality — in your community and communities around the world. 97% of Club teens expect to graduate from high school and 88% expect to complete some kind of post-secondary education. There are a variety of ways to get involved. Whether you help with homework, coach a game, or teach an art project, you’ll have the opportunity to build healthy relationships with young people eager for adult guidance, and have a positive impact on their lives.

Find a local Boys & Girls Club Chapter near you at

These small ways to effect change can make a life changing impact for some. So while you're scrolling through your Instagram feed, checkout some local non-profits in your area doing good in their community through #giveback #nonprofits #immigrationreform or #familiesbelongtogether