Far be it for me to recommend holiday gifts, especially after that magna-glut of materialism, Black Friday. But now that America has its collective fix of self-indulgence and pseudo-savings (how many of us set a budget before we left home that day?), it may be that we wish to appease our guilty consciences.
A plethora of socially-conscious choices are before us. And, who knows? If you try one or more of my suggestions, maybe the idea will spread. So, in the name of making the American dollar go as far as it possibly can, I offer a few options that some of you may not know about.
Truly these are the strongest kind of charitable support one can offer: your dollar supports someone in need, and then it is paid back to be used again. Each cycle of repayment, your gift recipient is again encouraged to reinvest, drawing him or her into a habit of support, even without giving another penny.
- Kiva.org– Kiva has now become the most powerful individual microloan program out there, allowing individuals to sponsor new and established entrepreneurs to become stronger and more self-sufficient. Kiva sponsorships can literally change lives by growing economies. Our Interact club now has over $1200 invested in Kiva, adding a little more each year.
Gift Option: It’s not too late! You can give Kiva gift cards this holiday in $25 increments. Gift cards can be mailed, emailed, or printed for the recipient.
- Vittana.org– Vittana, like Kiva, makes microloans, but here does it by paying for the educations of students in the developing world, increasing their earning potential for the rest of their lives. Again, $25 is all you need to start a loan (and that actually pays for a great deal!). I’m currently supporting a Vietnamese womanwho is studying to be a teacher. $500 once will help her earn over $2500/year, and then I can reloan the same amount again.
Gift Option: Vittana is harder for gifting, but you can create a community/family account and give as/for a family.
Thousands of charities ask for donations to local and international causes. How do we know our money is going where it needs to? And how is my dollar best spent? Working with the assumption that the best donation is one which impacts a local community over the long term, here are a few which work most powerfully.
- Women for Women International– Women for Women specializes in helping women recover from the effects of war. Study after study reveals that women suffer disproportionately more from conflict and are most instrumental in re-establishing stable families and communities. Here’s an organization which offers numerous ways to help, including full sponsorships, special training and education, or special gifts for as little as $10.
Gift Option: Physical gift cards or e-cards both possible! Be careful with sponsorship, though, as it is a perpetual cost of about $350 each year.
- Heifer International– Heifer gives the gift of animals to families who need them to become self-sustaining, ending hunger and poverty. Various animals can be gifted to families from as little as $20 to as much as $5000 (“The Ark,” two of every animal in the catalog). There are also community projects which can be funded and followed. This is a program which continues to grow in its reach and success.
Gift Option: Physical gift cards, e-cards, and printable cards are available.
- Oxfam America Unwrapped– Oxfam American helps in dozens of ways to end hunger, locally and abroad. It’s new “Unwrapped” project makes gifting easier. Oxfam gifts are generally more expensive than the above programs, probably because of the extent and variety of its projects. However, it has done a great job of social networking its projects, as well—spreading the word, creating wish lists and gift registries, and helping you select the right gift for each on your list.
Gift Option: Gifts start under $25 and are available with printed or e-cards.
- American Red Cross– The battleship of relief organizations, the Red Cross has the most extensive way to gift to those in need, from relief efforts to support for American troops abroad, and from phone cards to meal trucks in the United States, there are few places in need where it isn’t working.
Gift Option: Gifts for as little as $20; printed, printable, and e-cards. You can also phone in your gift, if you wish.
Fair Trade Products
Decided that you must have some small or large material gift for giving? Fair trade and locally-produced gifts are great ways to raise awareness of the economic impact of our dollar. Stay away from the malls (which ship mass-produced gifts for large companies) and buy from sole proprietors, local business owners, and local craft shops. And if you want fair trade, try a specialty outlet like these.
- Global Exchange– A fair trade online store, the more expensive products here are guaranteed to come from artisans around the world who are paid fair and equitable wages for their work. Most products are modest in size, but often quite unique, and shoppers can purchase by country or type of product. The “Coffee Shop” is the most fun to browse through.
Gift Option: Products for as little as $10 and up to about $60. While it’s already too late to guarantee shipment by the holidays, gift cards are printable or emailed and can be done easily.
- Green America– An organization which works to create more social justice economies and help consumers make wise choices, Green America offers guides for sustainable gifting, a “Green Pages” of socially-responsible companies, and a thorough analysis of larger companies and what they are/aren’t doing to help. Their gift guide this year offers specials such as re-used items, sustainables, and organics.
Gift Option: Too many to mention here!
I’m sure you know of many more charitable and socially-conscious choices for gift giving. Offer them here!