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How to make a difference: 5 powerful action steps

When you ask most people if they want to make a difference in the world, the answer is almost always, “yes.” How to do that, however, isn’t quite as obvious—and many people can become discouraged if they feel like they haven’t fulfilled their purpose or made an impact. The world is a big place and it can be hard to know where to start. 

So, can the average person make a difference? Most people think so. In fact, 85% of participants surveyed agree they can make the world a better place through their actions. 

However, the actions people take to make a difference vary. Let’s see how people believe they can make a difference. Plus, we have some information on how people get involved to create change and what options are available to get started.

  • 96% of people feel their own actions, such as donating, recycling, or buying ethically, can make a difference. [1]
  • Approximately 63 million Americans—25% of the adult population—volunteer their time, talents, and energy to making a difference. [2]
  • People who volunteer experience a boost in their mental health. [3]
  • There are more than 1.8 million active nonprofits in the United States alone. [4]
  • 40% of the U.S. workforce are purpose-oriented in their jobs. [5]
  • The emotional benefits of helping are eliminated when helpers are instructed that they “should” help. [6]
  • People who donated more money to one of the world’s best known charities, UNICEF, didn’t reap any emotional benefits from their generosity. Yet, people who donated more money to an affiliated charity, SPN, perceived that it made a greater impact and then reported greater happiness. [6] 

As the research shows, making a positive impact in the community is something that can benefit you as well the people and organizations you serve. Whether you’re eager to figure out how to make a difference through your work, for your loved ones, or in your community, we’re breaking down simple ways you can make a difference:

  1. Use your skills to help others
  2. Donate time or money to organizations
  3. Be there for those around you
  4. Share gratitude
  5. Find a cause you care about and act

Now that you have those five different action items, let’s dive into the details of each one.

How to make a difference: 5 powerful actions

Think you need loads of power, money, and influence to make a difference? Think again. There’s no shortage of ways that you can make an impact.

Below, we provide an overview of each of the five tactics we’ve identified—as well as a ton of suggestions for how you can put them into action. 

1. Use your skills to help others

You have plenty of skills and knowledge available to you that others may not have. Those skills don’t have to be technical or specific in order for people to benefit from them. Here are some examples of using your talents to create positive change:

How to make a difference: 

  • Make music: Visit hospitals, senior living communities, or even your local library to perform. You might inspire someone or remind them of a happy memory.
  • Work with kids: Volunteer with local schools or libraries to help elementary students with reading or basic math.
  • Code: Contact nonprofits or small businesses to see if they need help developing a website.
  • Speak another language: Ask nearby schools if they need any help with kids in English as a Second Language programs or offer translation services for community organizations.
  • Conduct public relations: Reach out to local nonprofits or small businesses to see if they need help with their social media or press outreach.
  • Handle accounting: Find a nonprofit that hosts a tax program and volunteer to help low-income families and individuals file their taxes for free or at a low cost.
  • Complete repairs: Offer to fix or perform maintenance on people’s vehicles or homes for free or at a low cost.
  • Cooking: Whip up some meals for the elderly who aren’t able to leave their home or donate baked goods to a church fundraiser. 

2. Give time or money to organizations

This one seems obvious, but many people become hung up on the donating part without thinking of all the non-monetary ways they can give back—like with their time.

Writing a check can make a huge difference for small organizations or groups, but isn’t the only solution if you’re short on funds. Here are some ways to donate or volunteer that will make a significant impact in your community:

How to make a difference: 

  • Donate to a local nonprofit or fund something for a small group. Large nonprofits are great to support, too, but may not give you the same feeling of impact as you’d have supporting a smaller one. Plus, you can find ways to give directly to those who need it. Many churches or organizations collect information about families in need for the holidays so people can sponsor a family and provide gifts for the holiday.
  • Volunteer for a cause or institution that means something to you or your community. Volunteer work doesn’t have to just be for a nonprofit. Consider helping out with your children’s school, coaching a children’s sports team, or delivering meals for meal delivery programs. Time can be a more valuable asset than funds since many people feel too busy to volunteer their time, and most organizations are happy to have additional volunteers help in any capacity. 

3. Be there for those around you

You don’t need to look far—you can make a difference in the lives of your family and friends, too. Seven out of 10 Americans name family as the most meaningful and fulfilling aspect in their lives, so don’t underestimate the influence you have in your own close family circle. 

What’s more, don’t be afraid to ask your friends and family if they’re okay or how you can help. For those who struggle with their mental health, simply having someone be there for them can provide comfort and have more meaning than you realize. 

How to make a difference:

  • Call or text friends or family you don’t see too often. A simple, “I’m thinking of you,” can make someone’s day.
  • Offer help for someone who has a lot of their plate. If you have a friend who’s a new parent, bring over meals or offer to run errands for them.
  • Encourage your friends, family, or close coworkers to follow their dreams. Support them however you can to help them pursue their passions.
  • Listen. When someone shares with you what’s on their mind or anything they’re struggling with, really tune in and try to understand their situation. Empathize and ask what you can do for them.
  • Share your own experiences. A memory about your grandmother’s advice or your favorite travel story might inspire someone.
  • Apologize when you’re in the wrong. Be the first to say, “I’m sorry,” if there’s an issue with someone so your relationship with them doesn’t suffer.
  • Help loved ones who are disabled or elderly with household chores that might be difficult.
  • Pitch in if your boss or coworkers seem overwhelmed with work and see how you can take things off of their plate.

4. Share gratitude

You can never have too much gratitude in your life. Not only will focusing on what you’re thankful for make a difference in your own happiness, it can have a huge impact on the person or group you recognize. 

How to make a difference: 

  • Write thank you notes to people who impressed you or went above and beyond.
  • Notify someone’s boss if the person has really been great to work with.
  • Tip generously for good service from waitstaff, hairdressers, delivery drivers, etc.
  • Recognize friends and family for the small things they do that you make take for granted, like listening to your rants, household chores, etc.
  • Nominate people for awards to recognize them for their hard work.
  • Give a gift (even a small one!) to people in your life to show your appreciation for them.
  • Acknowledge people publicly for their hard work or help.
  • Pay kindness forward to people you may not know.
  • Say thank you! It seems obvious, but be sure to thank people regularly for both small and big things to show your gratitude.

5. Find a cause you care about and act

By completing some of the steps we've outlined so far, you might come across a cause that inspires you or really resonates with you.

The best way to make a difference is to use that passion for your cause and turn it into action. Don't just admire that cause—actively participate in it.

Need some inspiration? We’re sharing some popular causes that many identify with, as well as easy actions you can take today to start making an impact. 

Causes where you can make a difference: 

  • Animal welfare
  • Cancer research
  • Child and family services
  • Climate change
  • Disability awareness
  • Education
  • Gender inequality
  • Human trafficking
  • Hunger
  • Mental health
  • Poverty and homelessness
  • Racism
  • Substance abuse

Actions to take to make a difference: 

  • Organize or attend a protest 
  • Host a fundraiser, food drive, clothing drive, or blood drive
  • Create awareness materials for your cause to inform others
  • Call your state and local lawmakers
  • Foster or adopt children or animals in need
  • Recycle
  • Serve on a board or committee related to your cause
  • Give out survival kits to homeless people
  • Call a newspaper or news station to report on the cause
  • Educate others on your cause
  • Create a petition and ask others to sign it
  • Shop ethically

These are examples of broad-scale social issues and common actions people may take to make a difference. However, these causes can be broached on a smaller-scale by taking action in your community, on your work team, or in your direct circle of influence. 

For example, if you see a process at work that isn’t efficient and you know it could be better, take action and develop a new, improved process. This will make a positive impact on you and your entire team—and as an added bonus, you’ll prove to your boss you have good team player skills

It’s proof that making a difference doesn’t need to be a world-saving and headline-worthy endeavor. 

Feeling unmotivated?

Find out how to unlock your motivation.

Small acts can make a big difference

Speaking of which, ultimately, it’s the little things we do every day that can make a difference in the world or within our small network of friends, family, and acquaintances. 

This quote from Julia Louis-Dreyfus seems to say it all, “The best way to make a difference in the world is to start by making a difference in your own life.” If you follow the steps outlined above, you’ll start to make a positive impact in your own life, as well as the lives of your loved ones and others around you. 

If your goal is to one day make a difference on a larger scale, get involved and support causes that affect large groups of people. Use resources like social media or news reporters to share your cause with the world. Don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t seem like your work or efforts have created significant change, it may have impacted more people than you realize.

But I’m still overwhelmed...

Need help getting started? Sometimes our own lack of motivation can be the biggest hurdle to overcome when figuring out the best way to take action. 

To fire up your own initiative, seek out a buddy who also wants to make a difference to be your partner in changemaking. Two heads are better than one and it might be easier to brainstorm together how you can make an impact in your community.

Another way to get started on your journey to making a difference is to receive coaching and feedback on your strengths and weaknesses to see where you would be most effective in making change. 

F4S has tons of free resources, including personalized coaching, to help you identify what unique strengths you bring to the table and how you can improve on other skills to make a real and fulfilling difference.

Find out how to make a difference using your unique talents in just 20-minutes a week with our fast coaching—get started today!

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