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5 Kinds of Gifts that Give Back
If your family is anything like mine, you didn’t finish opening all the presents under the tree last year until close to dinnertime. It’s unbelievable the amount of toys, clothes, gadgets, jewelry and books that go under our trees. Despite the tough economy, the National Retail Federation is forecasting sales of more than $465 billion for the 2011 holiday retail season (an almost 3 percent increase over last year’s sales). Can you imagine what would happen if instead of that money being spent on electronic equipment and toys, it went toward helping the needy?
Don’t get me wrong — I like a nice organic cotton sweater as much as the next person. But one sweater (or a pair of cowboy boots, hint hint) is enough. And I don’t mind wrapping up a hoodie sweatshirt for my nephew, but I would like to make him understand that the holidays are not all about receiving as much stuff as possible. I especially want my young daughter to understand that not everyone in this world is as fortunate as her, and that giving to others can feel as good as getting (and sometimes even better).
With that in mind, at Gaiam we brainstormed five unique holiday gift ideas that you can feel good about giving, and the recipient can feel great about getting. Let’s put that $465 billion to good use.
1. Give a fishing pole
I don’t mean that literally. But you’ve heard the old proverb: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” Well instead of teaching someone to fish, how about giving him a fishing pole, in the form of a small micro-loan, so that he can earn a living for a lifetime? That’s the idea behind Kiva.org, a nonprofit micro-loan organization that matches lenders directly with entrepreneurs around the globe needing the funding assistance. Their mission is “to connect people through lending for the sake of alleviating poverty.”
The beneficiary of the loan commits to paying the lender back in a certain period of time. Kiva gift certificates, starting at $25, make for great gifts. The recipient of the certificate can go to the website to choose which entrepreneur he wants to support. For example, he might choose to help Concepción Mamani of Bolivia raise the money she needs to buy materials for her rug-weaving business. Or fulfill Mouhamad from Lebanon’s request for $2,000 to update his barber shop. Your gift in turn is a gift to someone else.
You can purchase and print out a gift certificate in the amount of your choice on the Kiva website, or choose to have it e-mailed directly to the gift recipient.
2. Give a part of your gift
With the many companies that donate a portion of their proceeds to charitable causes these days, you can still buy your daughter those pants, your mom that shirt or your sister that lipstick while giving back.
Forget socks as stocking stuffers. Try Peacekeeper Cause-Metics, a line of natural nail polish, lipsticks, glosses and balms whose maker donates all after-tax profits to women’s health advocacy and human rights issues. Peacekeepers products have been given high marks by the Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep report, and they offer free shipping on orders over $25.
Got a wild child? Bruz Wear makes durable and adorable pants for children 6 months to 6 years. The company was started by a mother whose son has hemophilia, and a portion of proceeds from all sales go to hemophilia research and support programs. Bruzwear pants come adorned with kneepads that protect crawling and active children from cuts and bruises.
Buying fair trade gifts — jewelry and accessories, clothing, home decor, personal care products, chocolate — helps artisans and farmers in developing countries earn livable wages while learning marketable skills, and even receive support with education, healthcare and child care. One remarkable fair trade organization, Hagar On Time in Cambodia, is doing all of this while giving women a path out of horrific circumstances including human trafficking and domestic violence. And fair trade shops including Gaiam's are brimming with unique presents you won’t find at Banana Republic or Nordstrom.
Also check out Rescue Chocolate, a vegan chocolate company that donates 100 percent of proceeds to animal rescue organizations (we love the Peanut Butter Pit Bull flavor!), and Giftback.com, where 10 percent of your purchase goes back to the charity of your choice. Or, for the fitness lover, shop Gaiam’s Go Pink! fitness DVDs — $1 from each purchase will be donated to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.
3. Give your time, or stuff
For those of you a little short on cash this year, you can give a gift that gives back in a substantial way without spending a dime. Offer to donate your time, stuff or expertise to an organization of the recipient’s choice. Nonprofits like the Salvation Army and Goodwill gladly accept gently used clothing, furniture, household items and even airline miles or cars. Dress for Success, a nonprofit that helps disadvantaged women by providing professional attire and career advice, will take used clothing items off your hands and put them to good use. So instead of letting all that stuff take up room in your closet (or worse, throwing it in the landfill), give it away to charity.
Fresh out of stuff to give? Don a hardhat and safety goggles and bang some nails for Habitat for Humanity, if that charity appeals to your friend. For an animal lover, offer to walk dogs at your local animal shelter.
If the gift recipient is at a loss to pick a charity, steer her toward Volunteermatch.org for ideas. Accountants, marketing professionals and Web site designers are among the many areas of expertise that the nonprofit organizations on this Web site are looking for.
Use your computer to create a simple gift certificate, explaining what the gift is all about, or simply write it in a card. Be sure to follow up by sending the recipient a receipt or thank-you card from the organization to show her you made good on your gift.
4. Give green(backs)
Instead of spending $20, $50, $100 or more on a digital camera or an electric scooter, why not donate that cash to a worthy charity in a friend or family member’s name?
Denise Apple of Charlotte, N.C., buys Honor Gift Cards (cards that say a donation has been made in their “honor”), in $10 to $20 denominations from the Charlotte Free Health Clinic in lieu of Christmas gifts every year. “I do it because I don’t think adults really need little trinket-like gifts, but there are so many people I want to know that I’m thinking of them,” Apple says. “I get them from friends as well, and really appreciate it.”
Another cool gift idea is a Mercy Corps Gift from MercyCorps.com, an organization dedicated to assisting communities that are recovering from disaster, conflict or economic collapse. Each gift ranges in price ($16 to $3,000) and serves a different humanitarian purpose. The $100 Educate a Girl Gift, for example, helps pay for girls to go to school, giving them a better chance to succeed in life. And the $25 Clean Water Gift helps bring clean drinking water to some of the world’s poorest, most isolated areas.
Bring new meaning to “Peace on Earth” with a Peace Bond from Nonviolent Peaceforce. The bonds, which are available in increments from $10 to $500, help people in war-torn areas such as South Sudan, the Phillippines and Sri Lanka by enabling unarmed peacekeepers to go into conflict zones and protect vulnerable families. The bonds themselves feature inspirational artwork by artists from around the world.
5. Give a goat
Or a cow. Or a flock of chickens. Giving a gift from Heifer International, an organization dedicated to ending hunger, is a far cry from the same old sweater or scarf. Started by a Midwestern farmer more than 60 years ago, the organization has helped over 8.5 million families in 125 countries by giving them the means to feed themselves, as opposed to depending on others.
For example, the namesake heifer at $500, or $50 for a share, can produce four gallons of milk a day — enough for a whole family and possibly some leftover to sell to others. And a goat for $120, or $10 a share, can produce up to a ton of milk a year — with extra milk that can be used to make cheese, butter or yogurt. You can choose from a variety of animals including a llama, a water buffalo, a pig, honeybees, and many more.
For the past three years, Kim and Paul Hresko have purchased a different animal every year to give to their whole family as stocking stuffer gifts. “You get so much stuff in your stocking that you don’t need like lip balm or nail clippers,” Kim says. “We wanted to help the children understand that it’s nice to help other people by giving, instead of getting.” She likes Heifer International because with the purchase of every animal, you get numerous note cards that can be used as the actual stocking stuffer, informing each family member of his or her gift.