#GivingTuesday: 9 Ways to Pay it Forward

Here's how to give back to your community and the planet.

Editor’s note: This article originally published on Nov. 28, 2017. It was updated on Nov. 30, 2020.

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With #OptOutside and small (or virtual) family gatherings behind us, our thoughts turn to the important idea of goodwill toward all. Enter Giving Tuesday, which takes place Dec. 1, 2020.

Now in its eighth year, this day is the brainchild of the smart folks at the 92nd Street Y, a cultural center in New York City. Its purpose: to celebrate and encourage giving.

Not sure how to get involved? We’ve rounded up our favorite ways to invest in the outdoor community on this specific day—and throughout the year.

1. Donate to a nonprofit.

The outdoors have provided solace to many throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. People took advantage of local trails, urban greenery and nearby running routes. But some of the outdoors’ nonprofits are struggling. At the same time, usage of places outside is increasing, organizations may be facing fundraising challenges. Want to help? Consider supporting one of our more than 400 nonprofit partners.

Washington Trails Association trail work party

In 2019, REI invested almost $8.4M in more than 400 nonprofits, including Washington Trails Association.

2. Give your old gear a new life.

You may have just grabbed a shiny tent on Cyber Monday, but your old tent still wants to get out an adventure. Consider donating your lightly used items, which can reduce waste and help more people get outside. Co-op members can participate in REI’s trade-in program: just send us your lightly used gear, and we’ll send you a gift card. Better yet? Set up a local drive—help your friends and family members clean out their gear closet while ensuring the gear benefits people in your community.

3. Volunteer.

Many nonprofits build and maintain trails, fight for access to public lands and help get more people outside. Although donations are much appreciated on Giving Tuesday and beyond, volunteering offers another opportunity to make a difference. Reach out to an organization you’re passionate about and ask them how you can get involved. Are you a writer, photographer, accountant or simply know your way around a pickaxe? Donate your time—your expertise can go a long way. As always, check CDC and state guidance related to COVID-19 before deciding which volunteering opportunity is right for you.

4. Start a fundraiser.

Maybe you don’t have a ton of extra cash, gear or time to volunteer. If you have access to the internet, you can host a fundraiser. Planning an online-only fundraiser is a simple way to gather the power of your community together to give back this season. Just remember to assess the fees before choosing an online fundraising tool—some take a hefty chunk of change out of donations for processing fees, credit card fees and other hidden costs.

5. Buy gifts that do good.

This season, commit to philanthropy even as you’re spreading holiday cheer to your loved ones (or yourself). Do a little research and choose presents that have a give-back component. For example, 1% of Patagonia’s sales benefit the preservation and restoration of the natural environment. And the LifeStraw Give Back Program supports safe drinking water around the world. Or commit to only buying from companies that offset their carbon emissions. It’s a win-win.

6. Bring someone new outside.

Giving back doesn’t have to be through a nonprofit. Paying it forward can be as simple as bringing someone new into the outdoors. Have a friend in your bubble who doesn’t know how to climb? Take them to the closest crag. Does your kid’s schoolmate lack time outside? Consider a socially distanced, double-family hike. For information on recreating responsibly during the COVID-19 pandemic, check state and CDC guidance.

7. Take a first-aid class.

Part of spending time outdoors means being a good steward, both of the land and your fellow recreationists. Learning emergency preparedness skills can be a great way to contribute, time and time again (if necessary). Find a class near you and learn about health and safety protocols for outdoor classes during COVID-19.

8. Don’t forget the future.

Keep the goodwill going year-round: Set up monthly automatic donations to your favorite nonprofit, create calendar alerts for future volunteer activities and take on the Opt to Act 52-week challenge.

9. Spread the word to the next generation.

You’ve already shared your fundraiser online, posted a selfie on the ‘Gram of you doing trail work and brought a friend outside. Don’t forget to engage the next generation. If they care about supporting nonprofits, protecting the environment and enjoying outdoor recreation, they’ll keep the good going far into the future.

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