Making a difference: Unusual ways to give back

Hands hold a baby sea turtle

These ideas go beyond the usual financial donations to help you uncover potentially rewarding opportunities to give back.

Imagine volunteering with a sea turtle conservation project and experiencing the excitement of watching sea turtle hatchlings emerge from their sandy nests and make their way to the open ocean.

Or working with climate scientists in the Arctic as you help monitor snowpack, permafrost, and soil samples for signs of climate change.

These are just two examples of how you could make a difference in ways you may not have thought about before — and have a remarkable experience as you do so. (Clearly, COVID-19-related travel restrictions may affect travel plans.)

Here, we share several unique ideas for how to give back. They could help inspire you to take action and help make the world a better place.

Help critically endangered turtles

Volunteer vacations can offer upscale travel in exotic locales while giving you a chance to make a difference. One example is traveling to Costa Rica’s Tortuguero National Park to help in conservation efforts for critically endangered turtles including hawksbills, green sea turtles, and leatherbacks. Part of your volunteer work includes developing key research skills while monitoring Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast for mother turtle tracks and nests.

Help detect signs of climate change in the Arctic

Looking for the road less traveled? How about traveling to research sites on a sled pulled by a snowmobile? Earthwatch Institute offers opportunities away from the usual tourist hotspots, including looking for signs of global warming in the Arctic. (You might also get a chance to sleep in an igloo.) Pairing volunteers with scientists, the organization runs trips around the world to contribute to important research.

Make a difference near home

You can also give back in distinctive ways without hopping on a plane. If you have stock, real estate, or collectibles that have appreciated, you might consider donating those non-cash assets through a donor-advised fund.

A donor-advised fund can be used for cash gifts; however, it can also be especially helpful for making non-cash gifts easier to handle for both the giver and the recipient. Many charities may be unable to take non-cash gifts given the level of complexity of such donations, so donor-advised funds can help charities you want to support benefit from the wealth accumulated in your non-cash, appreciated assets.

Using a donor-advised fund may also offer givers a middle ground between simple “checkbook charity” and complex giving like launching a nonprofit foundation. Through donor-advised funds, you can access more sophisticated planned giving methods without a long-term administrative commitment.

Invest in companies that align with your cause

What if investments could positively impact your finances and the causes you care about the most? You might be interested in social impact investing, which focuses on companies that do good in the world. It may mean investing in businesses that have the foresight to address serious issues that potentially present an opportunity to turn a profit for years to come. Social impact investing may also mean seeking out companies that are proactive and adapting to challenges that may lie ahead, whether it’s next year or 10 years down the road.

There are many ways to practice social impact investing. Here are a few examples:

  • Invest directly in companies or organizations whose main goal is benefiting social and environmental causes that align with your values.
  • Choose managed investments, such as exchange-traded funds (ETFs) or social impact bonds, that include companies that align with your values.
  • Make charitable grants to groups or projects that can blend grant money with investment capital to support higher-risk projects that may not otherwise succeed financially.

Your financial advisor could also recommend an approach toward social impact investing that could meet your goals.

‘Sustainable’ or ‘Social Impact’ investing focuses on companies that demonstrate adherence to environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) principles, among other values. There is no assurance that social impact investing can be an effective strategy under all market conditions or that a strategy’s holdings will exhibit positive or favorable ESG characteristics.

Different investment styles tend to shift in and out of favor. In addition, an investment’s social policy could cause it to forgo opportunities to gain exposure to certain industries, companies, sectors or regions of the economy which could cause it to underperform similar portfolios that do not have a social policy. Risks associated with investing in ESG-related strategies can also include a lack of consistency in approach and a lack of transparency in manager methodologies. In addition, some ESG investments may be dependent on government tax incentives and subsidies and on political support for certain environmental technologies and companies. The ESG sector also may have challenges such as a limited number of issuers and liquidity in the market, including a robust secondary market. There are many factors to consider when choosing an investment portfolio and ESG data is only one component to potentially consider. Investors should not place undue reliance on ESG principles when selecting an investment.

Exchange-traded funds are subject to risks similar to those of stocks. Investment returns may fluctuate and are subject to market volatility, so that an investor’s shares, when redeemed, or sold, may be worth more or less than their original cost. Exchange-traded funds may yield investment results that, before expenses, generally correspond to the price and yield of a particular index. There is no assurance that the price and yield performance of the index can be fully matched.