How To (Thoughtfully) Give the Gift of Charity

There is likely at least one person in your life, whether it be parent or spouse or child, who is and always will be impossible to shop for. Every year it becomes more and more difficult to think of a creative, meaningful gift that won’t just wind up in languishing in these people’s gift-vortex basements. They will often protest, “Just don’t get me anything!,” but their sincerity is questionable, as is one’s own resolve to buy grandma jack when you know she’s going to give you something really nice.

That’s where charity comes in–who, except the most hardened consumer, can be genuinely displeased when, instead of receiving yet another toaster or tie, they get a notification that they’ve helped build a home or feed a family?

My opinion is that, while it’s certainly “enough” to buy some Heifer Project cows online and print out an e-card telling Auntie Anne you did so, it’s also nice to personalize gifts by giving both the donation and a small token symbolizing the gift to its recipient. That way, the recipient knows you spent longer than 30 seconds clicking a link and inputting your credit card data online. Below, I’ve put together a list of ideas for which charities to pair with which small gifts.

For Your Grandmother Who Loves to Garden

OxFam’s Unwrapped program is specifically designed to allow people to donate in the name of someone else. For $30, you can donate the “Plant a vegetable garden” gift and OxFam will print a card with a personalized message of your choosing and send it to the gift recipient (or to you, if you want to include a handwritten message and deliver it yourself).  You can then pair a few packets of seeds or a new pair of gardening gloves with the card.

For Your Grandpa Who Loves to Fish

Through World Vision, you can give a family a fishing kit, which WV says consists of equipment “such as a fishing pole, fishhooks, lines, and fishing net.” I wish they were a little more specific, but I assume they tailor kits according to the needs of each family’s region. The kits are $40 apiece, and you can give one along with a few inexpensive fishing lures for Gramps or even one of those cheesy fishing-themed ornaments.

For Your Mom Who Loves Dogs/Cats/Pigs/Other Animals

The American Humane Society has a holiday giving program that includes a card and a cute, gold-plated pig-peeking-over-a-fence ornament with each donation of $50 or more. If you don’t want to spend that much, you can donate a lesser amount and give your mama something cute from Etsy, like the pictured stuffed patchwork pig ($15.95 + free shipping).

For Your Dad Who Likes to Pick Out Everything Himself

If the person you’re shopping for is so picky you can’t even choose a specific charity without being afraid it will meet with disappointment or disapproval, there are several online websites ( is one that has been mentioned in the New York Times and is Better Business Bureau accredited) where you can purchase a “charity gift card” and the giftee gets to pick a recipient from hundreds of national and local charities which have been vetted by TisBest. In this event, you can also give your friend/relative just about any small accompaniment, from a framed picture to homemade cookies.

The charities listed above are all recognized non-profit organizations, and they provide receipts for their gifts, which are tax-deductible. And in my experience, people really enjoy knowing you gave to charity in their name, especially older folks who are financially established and have no real need to receive more expensive baubles on Christmas.

Have any of you given or received charity donations? If so, did you give/get anything else with the gift?

4 replies on “How To (Thoughtfully) Give the Gift of Charity”

Heifer International is another good one for animal lovers/ cheese lovers/ gardeners/ generic do-gooders. You can donate goats, sheep, cows, chickens, beehives, gardens, etc to families living in poverty around the world. Heifer waits until they have a critical mass to help turn around significant chunks of an area, and then the recipients are also obligated to give the first female offspring to another family, which passes on the benefit. The recipients are also given classes on farming or animal raising, to help bring them out of their current circumstances. It’s a really awesome program.

I love these ideas! This year my mom asked to make a donation to a project to help children, so I picked the Pajama Program. She got an ecard….but now I’m thinking I should have gotten her a pair of slippers or something to go with it. NEXT YEAR!
(the Pajama Program is awesome, btw, it sets up kids with pjs and bedtime stories)

In addition to the gift baskets, I sponsor an Ethiopian child (school/microfinance) in the name of my clients. (I don’t think they would have been as happy without the baskets.)

I funded a sight-restoring eye surgery via Seva in the name of my dad, who just had his cataracts removed. He doesn’t get anything else.

What great ideas! My Gram is the “I don’t need any more STUFF” kind of person, so the past few years have been your standard charity thing, without anything attached, which always felt less cool to me. The gardening idea is one I will so totally steal next year.

These nice folks will send your giftee some fruit, then make a donation to a food bank in the same amount. It’s what I got my Gram this year, yay!

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