Big Heart? Small Wallet? A Thrifty Guide to Giving

05/12/2015 12:05 pm ET | Updated May 11, 2016

My mother (known in her hometown of Chattanooga as "The Purple Lady") lives by what she calls her "Purple Rules: Do unto others and for others." Give graciously and generously to help people without expecting anything in return. Her gift to me was the lesson of being a giving person and not a getting one.

According to the Women's Philanthropy Institute at Indiana University - Even though women in many cases earn less than men, have less in retirement, and outlive their spouses they tend to give more.

Many may assume philanthropy is only for the wealthy. but that is not the case. Anyone can be a giving person at any level. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary definition of philanthropy is "the practice of giving money and time to help make life better for other act or gift done or made for humanitarian purposes." With benefit season in full swing and charities hosting Spring and Summer fundraisers, it may feel like writing checks is all that matters.

But what if you have a large heart and a small budget? Even a penny pincher can pay it forward.

Here are my five tips to be a giving person of any means:

1. Offer your time.
Many charities are short staffed and need skilled help in areas like social media, website management, clerical support or event coordination. Offer to walk dogs at your local animal rescue center or volunteer to teach a class or give a workshop at a local community center.

2. Donate supplies and equipment. Do you have old computers, office supplies and furniture that could help furnish a charity's office? Do you have extra office space for a small charity to use? Clean and collect old clothes you never wear to give to your local theater's costume department or an organization like Dress for Success. Just about anything you have that you no longer want or need can be donated to charity or to a local thrift shop whose sales benefit a charity.

3. Provide your knowledge and expertise. Join a committee where your voice and "brain trust" can make a difference. Often just providing a new perspective can generate fresh ideas for a charity.

4. Connect your contacts. While you may not have the funds to donate largely you may know someone or a company who does. I have helped a number of charities secure sponsorship and donations with a simple email introduction. Whom you know can be as valuable as what you have.

5. Give as a group to make your contribution go further. Organize a giving group and meet monthly to recommend and discuss causes to support collectively. Think of it along the lines of an investment club but for charitable initiatives. Invite representatives from charities to come to present their work.

Be smart with your heart and use your head when you donate:

Just because you have a generous heart doesn't mean it should be a bleeding heart. Think before you donate and give to a charity that solicits you for money. Do your homework and ask questions. Read the charity's mission statement and annual giving report on its website. Ask how the funds will be earmarked and spent. Here are two sources that rate a charity's performance and provide other helpful giving guidelines. Charity Navigator or Guidestar.