Charitable giving isn’t just about sharing wealth or the personal possessions you’ve accumulated. Turns out, the most valuable contributions you can make to the less fortunate don’t hinge on your ability to earn, save, or give money generously—in fact, money would be a poor substitute for the things people really need from you. Below are 10 charitable donations you can make that won’t lighten your wallet and don’t require your demise, but are beyond value to those who receive them.
The importance of blood is fairly well-understood these days, but people still underestimate just how hard it is to keep hospitals well-stocked with the shining red juice of life. After all, everyone has blood—how hard can it be to convince a few people to share it?
Turns out, really goddamn hard, thanks in part to overly strict rules governing eligibility and deferral. See, a lot of well-meaning people receive deferrals based on life events (like drunkenly opting to get your BFF’s nickname scrawled across your lower back in some seedy tattoo parlor), traveling to areas at risk for certain diseases (pretty much anywhere more than 50 miles from a McDonalds), or simply taking aspirin before showing up to donate. These deferrals are rarely lifetime bans, but that doesn’t stop would-be donors from avoiding the blood mobile forever after. There is actually an ongoing shortage of viable donors, compounded by misinformation, a lack of ethnic diversity, and even sheer laziness from those who have donated before, but simply don’t bother trying again after getting temporarily deferred.
There’s something inherently comical about poop—that is, until yours isn’t coming out correctly…either too fast or not or at all. And with the wide-spread incidence of digestive disorders, from irritable bowel to Crohn’s, and even obscure infections like Clostridium difficile, poop turns decidedly unfunny or even deadly for several hundred thousand people every year.
One promising form of treatment is known as Fecal Microbiota Transplant, whereby a donor’s healthy poop gets strained, added to a solution, and given to a matching patient. It works similarly to taking probiotics, only healthy poop is packed more fully with good digestive bacteria than any yogurt Jamie Lee Curtis ever dreamed of, and gets taken right to where it is needed most, rather than slowly being digested and broken down on its way to the colon. Although still considered an experimental procedure, the treatment has been documented as far back as ancient China, and current procedures boast more than a 90% effectiveness rate, so insurance providers are beginning to cover the procedure for patients—though not necessarily for donors. Still, can you put a price on life-saving stool? This is your chance to literally give a shit.
You don’t have to wait until death to donate your parts to science. That is, if you have a little extra part growing somewhere in or on your person. As part of the ongoing effort to understand and better fight mankind’s most worthy adversary, Cancer researchers are in constant need of samples—particularly, from malignant tumors. Despite the frequency of the various Cancer diagnoses, it is ridiculously difficult for researchers to access enough tissue samples to do their jobs effectively: either doctors destroy tissue samples without asking patients first, or patients concerned about their privacy opt not to contribute their Cancerous leftovers. Oh, and receiving treatment can ruin the viability of tumors for research, meaning that patients not actively battling Cancer make the best donors.
Unfortunately, patients who lose their battles with Cancer are often ineligible to donate their organs, and it is not always possible to utilize (or even locate) the tissue where the Cancer originated—another key to researching the disease. So planning ahead to spare a tumor at the first opportunity may be the only way to support this cause.
That’s right. You can start making the world a better place by donating your hugs—not indiscriminately, you pervert!—but specifically to service animals in-training. See, man’s best friend has proven capable not just of sniffing out bombs and drugs, but of making a significant quality of life boost for blind, autistic, diabetic, agoraphobic, depressed, handicapped, post-traumatic survivors, and even college students stressed about finals. The list is so long that demand is basically permanently ahead of supply, and breeding dogs that can actually operate as service animals is a little more precise than just locking Lady and Tramp in garage for the weekend and waiting for magic.
Part of the process of getting young pups prepared for their life of service and companionship is socialization: that is, getting used to interacting with all sorts of different people. The more socialization they have growing up, the more capable they will eventually be of bonding with (and serving) their eventual companion. What this amounts to for you is a constant demand from puppies for your hugs. As they get older, this can also entail walking and other more sophisticated forms of interaction, but when future service dogs are at their youngest, floppiest, and goofiest, they need your hugs to prepare them for missions of life-saving service and derring-do.
6. Your Genome
Your kindergarten teacher was right after all: you are a beautiful and unique snowflake. And nobody appreciates your uniqueness more than the geneticists trying to study the human genome to better understand how to make medicine better. The idea is that, instead of double-blind studies that produce medicine that works more than half of the time at best, why not use data science to analyze what makes people sick—and healthy again—at the genetic level? This latest effort to slap death in the face is called the Precision Medicine Initiative, a national effort to record and analyze the genes of more than a million people.
Already, limited production of genomic-targeting cancer medication has proven successful. To make it affordable and more broadly practical, the scale of the study needs to increase. In order for the sample to be truly useful, everyone—not just one ethnicity, not just chronic disease sufferers, not just the pretty ones, but everyone—is a potential donor. This way, America will have a genomic map of everything from sickle cell anemia to male pattern baldness, and can begin coming up with treatments designed at the genetic level to provide treatment.
5. Your Voice
Are you literate? Trick question, you’re reading this! And with that, we know you have what it takes to provide an invaluable service to the blind and vision-impaired residents of wherever you live. While high-tech innovations are constantly emerging, sometimes the simpler things still just take a human touch. And considering the ballooning population of elderly people around the world who are accustomed to reading the paper before shot gunning hard candy and making casually racists observations, there is a high (and growing) demand for people willing and able to read things out loud.
In some areas, this just means volunteering to show up consistently and read whatever is handed to you; some cities actually streamline the process by distributing recordings of someone reading the daily paper among those who sign up for the service. Whether you are hoping to jump-start your career as a voice actor, or simply appreciate that not everything on the internet gets instantly converted to braille, you have the opportunity to help countless individuals stay connected with a world they can no longer see, just by reading aloud in person or into a microphone.
While you may pity-tip Santa on your way into Walmart at Christmas, and assure wheelbarrow-toting Girl Scouts that you ‘bought at the office’ and can’t afford any more cookies, there is no cash-substitute for bone marrow. In the popular imagination, marrow extraction is the most painful experience possible outside of childbirth. In reality, most of the time it looks pretty much the same as donating blood.
Roughly 70% of the time, donating marrow is actually done through peripheral blood stem cells. The donor gets a drug that stimulates their healthy marrow to work overtime, until it spills into the regular blood stream, and is sucked out through the veins—just like regular old blood. For the other 30% of patients who need just a little more love, marrow extraction (and transplant, for that matter) involves sliding a needle into the hip bone; despite the use of topical anesthesia, that still tends to smart for a while. Rumor has inflated the trauma (and ignored the more common method) but between the fear and the promise of at least some pain, hospitals have such a hard time getting donors to sit through the process of giving marrow. This is compounded by the difficulty of finding a viable donor; marrow carries all the safety preconditions of donating blood, but without the ease and painless simplicity of making a fist for an hour before getting free cookies and juice. The database of potential donors is so limited, there is only a 1 in 540 chance of actually going through either procedure; so simply signing up can make a difference in leveling the playing field for blood cancer patients.
Forget soda cans and beer bottles—taking a whiz is the next big thing in recycling. The chemical uses of urine are well-documented throughout history; modern entrepreneurs are just scaling the science a little for more contemporary uses, and finding ways to make going go further. For example, Dutch scientists ran a project to collect the urine of pregnant women to study fertility—and make money selling an extract as a weight-loss supplement.
More upstanding environmentalists in Vermont have spearheaded a project to fight the military industrial complex by manufacturing all-natural fertilizer from donated urine. And down under, some boozy Aussies took the recycling concept to its ultimate extreme by crafting beer from barley watered with whiz collected at a music festival. The practice isn’t just about novelty—Texans contending with a severe drought combatted climate change with a plan to redirect wastewater that normally just got sent downstream. With a little research and good timing, it is becoming increasingly popular and possible to answer the call of nature in more ways than one—by donating number one.
Not all tissue donations have to be juicy and gross. Donating hair is a painless, needle and scalpel-free way to share something most people take for granted with patients (often children) who can’t grow their own. Given the cosmetic importance (and sometimes, MacGyver-esque practicality) of hair in most cultures, losing one’s hair can be a devastating compounding feature to dealing with a debilitating illness or its treatment. That is why charities have sprung up across the U.S. to help connect people willing to shave their heads with patients who have lost their hair for medical reasons.
That doesn’t mean just anyone can start saving their clippings; depending on the charity, the minimum lengths accepted range from eight to 12 inches, and generally they prefer hair that isn’t chemically treated, so no perms or wacky coloring jobs. But for those willing to commit a few months to ponytails, this is a powerful, painless way to uplift a vulnerable group of people.
1. Stem Cells
Not to be confused with the peripheral stem cells in marrow, stem cells are a much-needed, much-maligned subject in medicine. These guys are right at the footsteps of the definition of life debate, because they come from fertilized eggs (often when it has been determined that genetic defects are present and make the embryos unviable). They are also the best place for scientists to study how cellular development occurs from the beginning—including how congenital defects and diseases manifest and possibly can be prevented.
Donating embryos for research is no small task, as it usually begins with in-vitro fertilization, and not all fertility clinics are willing or capable of shuffling the little cell-bags from a donor to a research clinic. The logistics of timing, freezing, storing, and transporting are burdensome; these considerations, along with the ethical questions that patients and public advocates alike bring up so often, mean many fertility clinics don’t even broach the subject with their potential donors. Regulations also prohibit the use of anonymous sperm or eggs, so embryonic stem cells can only come from couples consciously pursuing IVF and willing to give up their leftovers if and when they are finished trying to have children.