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Holiday Gift Guide: Giving Outside the Box

Alternative charitable gift ideas for the altruist on your list

by Erin Pihlaja on November 29, 2012

If you’re a Metroland reader, chances are you’ve noticed the Adopt-A-Manatee ad that we regularly run. Well, stop ignoring it. It’s the holiday season, and if you’ve realized that your cup overfloweth, now is the perfect time to donate to a charity in lieu of a store-bought gift. Giving is easy, and most charities and nonprofits will accept donations regardless of the amount or time of year. You can go global or local, human or animal—whatever your choice, this is a sure way to guarantee that someone out there appreciates the thought behind your gift.

Back to the manatee. For $25, you can get someone you love their very own real-life endangered Florida manatee! (Why didn’t someone share this with that lady who hitched an illegal ride on one a few months ago? It would have cost a lot less than the $1,500 she shelled out in bail money.) Just to be clear, you don’t actually get a manatee, but with every donation, the Save the Manatee Club will send you an adoption certificate, a photo of your new buddy, and a biography of the little sea cow. The donation also lands you access to the club’s newsletter, which provides updates about the adopted creatures. They can live to be 60 years old, so this gift will keep on giving long after the holiday season has passed.

Those well-versed in the art of charity-as-gift seem to like Heifer International, an organization that has been around for 67 years. Founder Dan West wanted to end hunger and poverty, with the idea of giving “families a hand-up, not just a hand-out.” Donations pair project partners with livestock that not only provide food but income for a household. Donors can choose from 30 different types of animals like heifers ($50-$500), goats ($10-$120), and honeybees ($30); or from vegan-friendly service gifts like getting clean water ($300), and sending a girl to school ($275). Heifer International services around 40 different countries, including the United States.

All you micromanagers out there should consider the nonprofit organization called Kiva. Kiva focuses on microfinancing, which provides capital to borrowers who would likely be overlooked by large financial institutions. Founded in 2005, Kiva has already facilitated $377,665,600 in loans (with a repayment rate of 99.02 percent) in more than 65 countries. Donations can be made in increments of $25, and recipients get a card reflecting that amount. Card bearers choose a project or partner to make a loan to, and get status updates on the progress of the loan. Each repayment goes back to the card bearer should they choose to take it, but the money can also be rolled over to fund another project or send a Kiva card to someone else. Cash it out or pay it forward—nothing like a little bit of moral dilemma to teach your friends the true spirit of the holidays, eh?

If you like gift giving, civil rights, and doubling your money, check out the Southern Poverty Law Center. Founded by civil rights lawyers in 1971, the organization is dedicated to “fighting hate and bigotry, and to seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of society.” Those groups include immigrants, troubled schoolchildren, and the LGBT community. If you make a donation before Dec. 31, they will match it dollar-for-dollar. Score!

Giving to those in need is kind of the essence of the holidays. It doesn’t take a whole lot, but most organizations know how to make even the smallest amount really count. There are plenty of organizations to choose from, and honestly, how many pairs of pajama pants or Yankee candles do we really need to giftwrap this year?