Making a difference isn’t easy. Like everybody else, we are taken by our daily tasks and obligations and we end up having little or no spare time, and, anyway, we rarely know how to make a difference with the means we can afford.
Making a donation (other than getting rid of the clothes or furniture we can’t stand anymore—and that nobody wants anyway) isn’t easy because we are never sure we can actually afford to give money away and that we are never sure that the money goes were it should and that it’s used as it should.
That’s why I propose that you use only 1% of your salary (before or after income taxes) to change the world. 1% is proportional the cost of one double extra latté frappuccinatto with consumerwhore sprinkles per week at Starb*cks (I’m sure you can give that up; it’s not even good for you anyway) and in the long term represents so very little in your budget that you’re not really going to notice it.
You can start with local charities in your own city, where you live and where you work (for example Benedict Labre House, just behind the ÉTS, on Young Street), and that’s probably where it counts the most. Making sure every human being has food and shelter is really, really, the most fundamental contribution one can make. That is why you can also contribute to food banks (Sun Youth, Moisson Montréal, or a similar non-profit organization in your corner of the world) and make sure no one goes starving.
You can also choose projects that help mankind as a whole, such as medical research. Whether it’s Fondation des maladies du cœur or Société du Cancer, even a modest amount of money contributes to having people do their research and eventually make breakthroughs that will impact the health of millions.
You can also give to help improving literacy, whether classical or computer; through local school projects, local libraries, or any other communal project like a bookmobile.
Promote higher education by giving to your alma mater. This tradition is more present in the English-speaking countries than french-speaking (at least, R.O.C. vs Québec), but it is really important to make sure that the kids that will come after you will enjoy only the best possible education.
Another way is to give time and knowledge directly, by contributing to projects like Wikipedia that are, arguably, the best things the Internet brought us so far; or at the very least, contribute to the dissemination of knowledge through improved ways of teaching—you guess it, I’m talking about Khan Academy.
Or, you know, you can also contribute to the beauty of the world by helping arts projects. However trivial an art project may seem to you, if it touches one person, it’s been worthwhile. One such project is the Open Goldberg Variation that proposes, in addition of releasing an entirely open recording of the variations, all kinds of goodies, such as printed score, signed CD, etc., to the height of your donation, or whatever you chose when donating.
The most important, in the end, is not so much how you make a difference but that you make a difference.