#GivingTuesday: 9 Ways to Pay it Forward

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


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Editor’s note: This article originally published on November 28, 2017. It was updated on November 27, 2019.

With turkey-induced lethargy, Opt to Act cleanups and Cyber Monday behind us, our thoughts turn to the important idea of goodwill toward all. Enter Giving Tuesday, which takes place Dec. 3, 2019.

Now in its seventh 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.

“This time of year, many nonprofits are in their major fundraising drives. The best way to give back right now is making a monetary donation. So, as you’re thinking about getting those last tax deductions, donate,” said Kristen Ragain, ‎philanthropy and community partnerships manager at REI. Need help finding a nonprofit? Consider supporting one of our more than 400 nonprofit partners, and stop by your REI store to learn more about the local grantees. “One of the benefits of being a co-op member is we’ve done the research for you,” Ragain said.

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 might have just grabbed a shiny tent on Cyber Monday, but your old tent still wants to get out there. Consider donating your lightly used items, which can reduce waste and help more people get outside. 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.

A group of volunteers sort through trash.

Join a local trail cleanup.

4. Start a fundraiser.

Maybe you don’t have a ton of extra cash, gear or time to volunteer. If you have the power of the internet or the ability to make cupcakes, you can host a fundraiser. Whether you plan a classic bake sale at your work or an online-only fundraiser, 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. 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 who doesn’t know how to climb? Take them to the closest crag. Does your kid’s schoolmate lack time outside? Go on a double-family hike.

Hikers on a trail

7. Take a first-aid or CPR 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.

Learn first-aid skills. (Photo Credit: NOLS)

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.

Two hikers holding up a child on a trail