Should I say spend or donate money to charity? What’s the difference?

In German and Swiss German, spenden is the verb used when giving something for a good cause. Although it sounds similar to the English verb spend, it doesn’t mean the same thing – another false friend to avoid. In English, the verb used to talk about giving money, clothes or food to charity is donate. 

Can you spend some money to charity?

– Swisstake

The Swisstake above should read:

Can you donate some money to charity?

Here are a couple of examples to outline the difference between the two verbs, along with their German and Swiss German equivalents:


     I donated some money to charity.

     Ich habe etwas Geld an Wohltätigkeitsorganisationen* gespendet.

     I ha chli Geld a Wohltätigkeitsorganisatione gspendet.


     I went shopping yesterday and spent way too much money.

     Ich war gestern einkaufen und hab viel zu viel Geld ausgegeben.

     I bi gester go poste und ha viel zviel Geld usgeh.

*Why do words have to be so damn long in German?

Donations aren’t limited to money or goods – one can also donate organs or blood (ein Organ/Blut spenden). If someone decides to donate money, blood or organs, the noun used to talk about them is donor – a blood donor, an organ donor, or simply just a donor if it’s about money.

Word forms

To recap, here are the word forms used:

Noun: donation (thing), donor (person)
Verb: to donate (present: donate, past simple: donated, past participle: donated)