If you are like many people I know, you can’t help feeling a slight sense of guilt giving store bought, mass produced gifts during the holidays – gifts that you aren’t even sure your recipients are going to like. This year the holiday shopping ploys literally multiplied from the usual Black Friday and Cyber Monday to include Black Thursday, Small Business Saturday and Free Shipping Day. I don’t know about you, but for me the holiday “spirit” of gift giving is feeling more like “yearly obligatory consumerist binge.”
To restore some of the feel good sentiment to this time of year – and make sure your gifts don’t end up in a landfill – one alternative is to give donations to deserving charities or non-profits in the names of your gift recipients. With so many of these organizations competing for our gifting dollars, it can be difficult to choose. Here is a list of some favorites to consider. These are great for last minute presents and most offer certificates, cards, or small companion gifts so that you have something to actually give to your recipients.
So, instead of getting your sister yet another boring scarf from Old Navy, opt for the warm and fuzzy feeling that comes from giving a laptop to a school in Africa. It’s amazing how far some of these organizations can make your dollars go.
- Heifer International: Donations to Heifer give livestock and training to impoverished children and families around the world. These “living loans” provide a source of nutrition and sustainable income. The receiving families pass on the gift by giving another family in need one of the animal’s offspring. You can give a flock of chicks for just $20 and create a card to send to your friend or family member.
- Hoop Fund: Gifts from Hoop Fund provide microloans to fund projects that support artisans and fair trade farmers in countries like Thailand and Uganda. For a purchase of $25 you can give someone a really cute African print apron made by women tailors along with a $10 loan that goes toward building a day care center for new moms in the tailor group. Loans are repaid within a year and can be used to make another loan.
- 826 National: 826 was founded by award-winning author Dave Eggers to give under-resourced students the opportunity to improve their writing skills and expand their creativity. Through its free tutoring centers located in eight cities across the country, 826 provides one-on-one support to students as well as resources to help teachers spark imagination in the classroom and get kids excited about writing. You can donate directly to 826 National or find your local chapter here. The Los Angeles chapter also has a cool Time Travel Mart where you can find all sorts of creative gifts.
- Camara Education: Just a $20 contribution to Camara (a west African word that means “one who teaches with experience”) will send a computer to a school in Africa where it will become part of an eLearning Centre and be used to teach digital literacy skills to ten African children. The purchase also includes a tracking number that you can send to those who you’ve made the donation on behalf of via one of Camara’s holiday cards.
- Relief International: Relief International is a humanitarian organization that provides emergency relief, rehabilitation, development assistance, and program services to vulnerable communities worldwide. Their relief beads are handcrafted by women in Darfur. The purchase of each bead helps combat malnutrition and hunger. One relief bead feeds a malnourished child for a week; 100 beads saves the lives of 20.
- The FEED Foundation: This foundation is dedicated to improving the functioning of the global food system. One of it’s key initiatives involves supporting international school feeding programs through the UN World Food Program. The WFP provides daily school meals to over 21 million children in 74 countries. You can support their cause by purchasing one of these great bags that supports a specific area of the world by providing meals to children there.
Kara Scharwath is a corporate social responsibility professional, marketing consultant and Sustainable Management MBA Candidate. She is currently working as a Graduate Associate in Corporate Citizenship at the Walt Disney Company while pursuing her degree at Presidio Graduate School. Follow her on Twitter @karameredith.