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How to Give Better (Even if You Don’t have Any Money)

Guest article contributed by John Lim

I looked at the boy’s face as I handed him the brand-new laptop. He normally isn’t expressive. When asked questions, he often gives monosyllabic answers: yes, no. But this time, he struggled to keep his smile in. This always reminds me that our giving can make a difference in the lives of those in need.

In this difficult time, your giving matters even more. Yet from experience, some donors are confused about how they can give to make a difference. In this article, you will find 5 ways to give better, so that your gift can truly make a difference.

1. Give with an open heart

Photo Credits: Canada Helps

Before I gave the laptop to the boy, my father warned me: ‘Make sure he doesn’t sell it.’ That left me angry and bitter. I disliked the way my father, like many others, held stereotypes towards the disadvantaged. It is common to think: they wouldn’t be in this state if they were hardworking and diligent, right? Maybe.

Whilst Singapore holds strongly to the idea of meritocracy, increasing inequality has made it harder for people from disadvantaged backgrounds to improve their situation. Indeed, in Teo You Yenn’s moving book, This Is What Inequality Looks Like, she argues that it is becoming difficult to fold the realities of inequality into the tidy narrative of progress and prosperity in Singapore.

Giving with an open heart is accepting that we will never fully understand the situations others face. Even if they do end up selling the donated items, we should accept that that might be the best option in their current circumstances.

2. Give what you would want to receive

A few weeks ago, a donor approached me to give some chili sauce. Curious, I asked for a picture of it and I received a picture of dozens of McDonald’s chili sauce sachets. Sometimes, you might think of donating your second-hand items, or items that you no longer need. That’s good, but not if those items are in poor conditions or are close to expiring.

Photo Credits: Straits Times

Often, one simple question to ask yourself is: If I were receiving this, would I want it? This simple question allows you to see if others will want to receive what you give. This gives dignity to recipients by giving them things they need, not things that you want to get rid of.

I asked for soy milk powder for my clients on Swapie and got it. No questions about why soy milk powder. Or whether there was a cheaper alternative. They treated my client's needs with respect and dignity. - John

3. Give with dignity.

Your gifts reveal much about who you are. This does not mean buying the most extravagant gifts to impress them, but it is about giving yourself dignity through your donated items.

I’m guilty of this. Once, when asked to donate, I gave all my old clothes. Clothes that had gone yellow, mouldy, and simply didn’t look nice anymore. What did this show about myself? That I couldn’t be bothered?

On the other hand, I’ve seen donors who’ve often impressed me with their giving. They have shown true generosity and compassion, even during difficult times like these. They often ask what people need and how they might help. They are concerned about the recipient’s welfare and they check if their gift has reached the recipient.

Editor’s Note: We must jump in now because John reminded us of a generous donor who topped up $60 on his own accord to get the beneficiary a top-quality appliance because he believes in giving only what he wants to get.

By the way, a shameless plug: This act left a profound impact in developing our product, and we’ve made it a point to give only the best to the communities we serve.

Giving with dignity is not about giving extravagantly. It’s about respecting yourself through the gifts you give. It was not until my auntie noted that the old clothes I gave were not going to give a good impression that I began to realise… Giving shows who I am.

4. Give cash

Donors might sometimes be uncomfortable with giving cash. They worry that the donation might be abused and used to buy things such as drugs and alcohol. I used to think the same till I started studying social work at university and worked with clients with severe financial needs.

As a student social worker in England, I worked in a hostel for the homeless. After speaking to them, I realised that many were honest, hardworking people. They weren’t the drug and alcohol addicts I had imagined. Instead, many had experienced severe misfortune in life, such as losing their job, their home, or a failed marriage.

Photo Credits: Unsplash/Kat Ukawa

Sometimes, if there is little you can give, a small cash donation of $5 to a social service agency can help. In Singapore, social service agencies serve the most vulnerable in society, and your donation will help them to continue doing the great work they do.

5. Give your skills

Photo Credits: People Matter

You might be trained professionally in a certain area. Accounting. Web design. Consulting. Why not offer your skills to social service agencies? Skills-based volunteering ensures that your skills benefit the organisation. Often, you might think to volunteer by doing meal deliveries. But volunteering your skills can be a much more efficient and effective way of giving. Your skills help develop the social service agencies, giving them greater capabilities and insight into the work they do.

For example, during my previous role as a board director for the University of Nottingham’s Students’ Union, I saw how board members volunteered their expertise to the development of the charity. An accountant would offer her insights on our state of finances and how it can be improved. A university professor would offer his insights on higher education and the unmet needs within the student community. A business consultant often reminded us of what we were already doing well and how we could do more of that.

So, if you have expertise in a certain field, why not volunteer your skills today?


St Francis once said, ‘It is in the giving that we receive.’ Indeed, your giving makes a difference in the lives of others,and in your own life too.

Sometimes, you might be giving with inaccurate thoughts of the recipients. That’s fine, but I hope this article has helped to clarify some myths around giving. I also hope it has prompted you to think: ‘What can I give?’, rather than ‘What can I receive?’ Because in times like these, your giving can make a difference. And giving differently can leave a legacy in your community.

About the Guest Writer

John studied social work at the University of Nottingham. Today, he runs his own consultancy, Gutenhag, training and speaking to young people to uncover their potential.

He previously served on the board of the University of Nottingham’s Student Union, a charity serving 35,000 students. He was also a non-executive director on UNU Services Ltd, a company with sales of £4.2 million in 2019.

He writes regularly about mental health, social services and personal development at

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If you have been keeping up with our blog, the past few blogs were mostly related to business. We thought it would be a good idea to squeeze in one on personal development. Just like starting/building