Can Donations Make for Good Gifts?

by - Tuesday, November 28, 2017

What if the next time you gave someone a gift, you didn't give them anything?

Happy Birthday, I gave your gift to somebody else. 

Happy Hanukkah, I gave your gift to somebody else.

Merry Christmas, I gave your gift to somebody else. 

Now, on first glance, a note like this makes you look like a real jerk. But more and more people are asking for gifts just like this. Rather than asking for stuff for their birthday or holidays, people (young people especially) are asking for donations to the charity or cause that means the most to them. 

And it makes sense. The world just sucks so much right now.

 I can't think of anything I want more than the world to suck slightly less. 

Donation gifts are thoughtful (showing you care about what the giftee cares about too) and they are SO eco-friendly (I mean, unless you are funding charities for the poor fossil fuel 1% or something). .They don't create waste, and they are generally plastic-free. They just do good. I picked small gifts you could put with these too, in case just a card with the donation feels like not enough.

I also think this could be cool for white elephants. There is at least one person in that room who doesn't want to take any junk home- make them an ornament and call it a day.

If you want to make a bigger impact, fund a smaller charity. Do a little research and fund something local. Then, you might even be able to go volunteer too!

One word of advice- know your audience. Some people would love this gift, but some people might feel offended. If you aren't sure how someone might react, he or she may not be the person to try this gift on. I am not handing out a license to be shaming or self-righteous here.

Obviously, this list could go on forever, so lots of things are missing. But I love advice, so please point me to charities worth supporting. 

Take Care of the Earth

Gift to tie in with it- an ornament, seed packets, home-cooked meals, a thrifted stuffed animal, potted plant or succulent, a cool patch

350- This beloved (by me at least) global grassroot movement's name stands for the uppermost safe level of CO2 in the air (we have surpassed it at 400). They fight fossil fuels with mass demonstrations and organizing.

The Arbor Day Foundation- If you want to buy me a gift, just go plant trees somewhere. That's all it takes to make me happy. If you know someone like me, you can buy trees planted as gifts from the Arbor Day Foundation.

The Audobon Society- For the bird-lover in your life. Fighting for bird species and their habitats.

Greenpeace- Yeah, you have heard of it. This organization is all about political activism, stepping up to fight injustice where it is happening and lobbying to protect the environment, fight big oil, and step up against injustice. 

The National Wildlife Federation- This group aims to protect American wildlife, maintaining biodiversity on our continent. I think this is a great one for nature lovers who are more conservative or aren't necessarily environmentalists. You can gift trees through them!

Natural Resources Defense Council- This coalition between lawyers, scientists, and members has created and continues to fight for vital legislation for clean air, clean water, and the protection of our natural world. Vitally important at this moment in history.

The Nature Conservancy- This organization is conserving a huge number of vital, yet at risk parts of our natural world. This can be the perfect gift for your animal-lover or your tree-hugger or just anyone who likes breathing. Plus, they have an awesome catalog. Or you can give money towards their Plant a Billion Trees program.

Sierra Club- A huge grassroots organization that fights on many fronts to protect the environment. They continue to be deeply involved in the pipelines, the banks that invest in them (looking at you, Wells Fargo) so this is a gift to anyone for the fight against this line or for indigenous people's rights to their land.

Tree Sisters- Women, out to reforest the rainforest, which we all know is vital to the survival of biodiversity and even the human race. Stop buying stuff with palm oil, start helping out these ladies. 

Look Out for the Animals

Alley Cat Allies- Based out of Bethesda Maryland, this group helps feral cats through a trap- neuter- release program and advocates for humane treatment for cats.

Guardian Angels Medical Service Dogs- This group trains dogs and matches them with people with PTSD and other disabilities. They have been proven to reduce suicide attempts and alcohol dependence in veterans and people suffering from mental illness.

The Humane Society- We all know they are a national treasure, saving animals and putting them in good homes. All of the pets I have ever had have been from there. Perfect gift for an animal lover is to support all those animals.

Wildlife Conservation Network- This network of organizations, local communities, and scientists saves endangered species all over the world. Even cooler? You can actually pick the animal your money goes toward saving!

World Wildlife Fund- This organization protects animals- especially the most vulnerable. Perfect for an animal lover or just someone who cares about biodiversity. I don't always love the way they try to raise money, but their work is so important.

Feed the Hungry

Action Against Hunger- This global organization is distributing food in fifty countries including in heartbreaking situations like those in the Sudan and Yemen. 

Bread of the World Institute- A Christian (but non-partisan) organization fighting hunger around the world and in the United States. They have a special focus on areas effected by climate change and maternal/ child hunger. 

Feeding America- This is the largest network of food banks and pantries in the United States, successfully fighting hunger in pretty remarkable numbers, though they still have more to do. 

Food Lifeline- This Western Washington charity reboxes excess food from farms, grocery stores, etc and distributes them to homeless shelters and food banks. They work with Feeding America. 

Heifer International- One of the only opportunities you will have to donate an animal in a loved one's honor. Heifer connects communities with sustainable agriculture and helping families reach self-reliance. And, they have the best gift catalog you will ever see. 

The Hunger Project- This global organization focuses on helping communities set up systems to feed themselves, partnering with local governments, and focusing especially on women as agents of change. 

Meals on Wheels- An organization that provides meals to seniors all over the United States. Their funding is at risk right now, so you can really help them.

Help Children Around the World

Gift to tie it in- a small toy (yes, I am suggesting you could do this with children), a gift certificate to a photo site like Artifact Uprising,

Girls, not Brides- This organization connects movements to end child brides around the world with crowdfunding to help them get what they need to put political and cultural pressure on. They have a lot of awareness projects as well.

Save the Children- This on the nose organization saves children. Specifically, they are out to help populations that have high child mortality rates. You can sponsor a child (old school) or look at particular issues, like helping refugee children.

Shot@Life- This United Nations initiative helps children around the world get the vaccines they need. Every 20 seconds, a child around the world dies from a vaccine-preventable disease, so this helps them get what they need to survive.

St Jude's Children's Hospital- Another well-known organization. They provide care for free to families with children who have cancer while researching cures to cancer. Pretty amazing, and you really only hear good things.

Water Aid- All over the world, people don't have access to clean water and this can be particularly deadly for children. Water Aid provides long term solutions to create sources for clean water (they aren't just dropping off Nestle bottles- I checked).


Hope for the Warriors- This organization was started by military wives who saw how brutal post-service life was for our servicepeople and their families. Now they help with transitions and quality of life for veterans.

Fighting Injustice

Gift to tie in- Go buy something from a person of color who owns a business in your neck of the woods.

Equal Justice Initiative is a collective of lawyers looking to end mass incarceration, specifically attending to class and race. They provide legal assistance to people who have been wrongly imprisoned, unfairly sentenced, or abused.

Southern Poverty Law Center- This American non-profit is a legal advocacy organization best known for winning lawsuits against white supremacist groups and standing up for the rights of people of color. They also have a super helpful/ horrifying hate map.

The Poor, the Homeless, and the Refugee

American Refugee Committee- This longstanding organization (over 35 years old) helps displaced people across the globe find clean and safe water and housing, education, and primary and reproductive health. They also do emergency interventions when needed.

Action Aid- This group works in 25 countries over the world to fight poverty, end hunger, empower education, and to provide disaster relief (more and ore needed) by working with local communities.

Give Directly- This organization cuts out a lot of the savior mentality by simply giving your money to a poverty-stricken family in an impoverished area. That simple. You give that person your money, and they decide what to do with it (studies have shown, they do great things).

Mary's Place- These Seattle shelters help homeless women and their children. They have grown into multiple shelters and always are in need of supplies and support to keep helping the many homeless families they do. So many people all over the world need help like this, so check what is nearby for shelters.

MOAS- You know those terrible stories you read about migrants and refugees traveling by boat, getting sick, drowning, etc? Migrant Offshore Aid Foundation offers medical care and rescues to these, the most vulnerable, of refugees.

Palestinian Children's Relief Fund- This apolitical organization is out to get Palestinian youths medical care (especially surgeries) when they need it. They have treated 800 plus children in the Middle East who had medical emergencies.

Shelter Box USA- This organization delivers shelters, water filters, blankets, etc to people who have become homeless due to humantiarian crisis and environmental disasters.

Stand Up for Women

Tie-in Gifts- a small gift from, ornaments, a little globe, ethical candy

Every Mother Counts- This campaign aims to reduce maternal mortality all over the world. Sadly (and somewhat surprisingly) those numbers keep going up. They are fighting to make pregnancy and childbirth safer for everyone. 

RAINN- The largest network against sexual violence. They help survivors, educate the public, and lobby for better policy around sexual assault. Could not be more important at this moment in history.

Polaris- This organization is analyzing and disrupting networks of human trafficking, working specifically in Latin America right now. They are also one of the lead support systems for trafficking survivors.

V-Day- This activist movement started as a small event (the Vagina Monologues) on Valentine's Day to raise money to end violence and girls. The problem is clearly not solved, and now there are two more big events- 1 Billion Rising (representing the over 1 billion women in the world who have been beaten or raped) and City of Joy (supporting women in the Congo. Extremely cool to check out whether you donate or not.

Women for Women International- This organization has on the ground training and empowering of women in conflict-ridden areas like Iraq, Bosnia, the Congo, and Sudan.  They have a yearlong training program and you can even see how the graduates feel it effected their lives.

The Sick and Grieving

Grief and ilnness might seem like a strange thing to acknowledge during holidays and birthdays, but especially for someone who is grieving a recent loss, it might actually be nice to feel like they are helping someone else. Or even to just feel like they don't have to pretend everything is normal for a minute. Again, know your audience, but I feel confident this is the right gift for someone out there.

Tie in Gifts- ornaments, self-care items, something to look forward to (cheap tickets, date night, etc.

Alzheimer's Association- An organization close to my heart, these guys fund research to end this horrible disease and they run all sorts of support programs all over the country.

American Cancer Society- We all know someone who is fighting or who has fought against cancer and we know how brutal it is. American Cancer Society splits the money across support and research. Don't do Susan G Komen. When you see the truth behind that brand, you won't want any part in it.

SUDC- Sudden Unexplained Death in Children has to be one of the hardest, scariest things to think about and talk about. Certainly not fun gift material. But I can think of nothing more heartbreaking, so maybe there is someone in your life who would appreciate doing something truly good, this is it. 

For the Arts and Learning

Gift to tie in- a new set of art or craft supplies (yarn, some paper, etc), theater tickets for your local theater, a book (maybe secondhand?) on their artistic interests, a small piece made locally

Fractured Atlas- This organization gives artists money and helps them with the skills to get more money. If you have ever tried to live on the things you make, you know applying for money is a huge part of the job, perhaps not the one you most enjoy. This seems brass tacks, but it helps artists stay artists.

Seattle Recreative- Ok, I am biased because I work there, but this creative reuse center is basically the best place ever. They keep tons of perfectly usable supplies (and a whole lot of toilet paper rolls and bottle caps) out of landfills while educating people on the environment and waste. Look and see what art centers are around you: someone needs funding. 

The Best Donations to Give as Gifts

Can Donations Make For Good Christmas Gifts?

Alright, I have hit my mark, and I feel like I have barely scratched the surface! Isn't it wonderful to think about how many people are out there in the world trying to do good things? What a lovely thought this time of year, and I am excited to hear all of your suggestion on what I should add.

Have you ever given a donation as a gift for someone? What did they think of it? 

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  1. These are beautiful ideas. For several years now, I have made donations in honor of all my children's teachers as Christmas and end of school year gifts. I felt like teachers get sooo much from their students, they didn't need another trinket. Their reactions to the gifts was so uplifting and positive.

  2. These are some wonderful ways to impact the world for the better.

  3. I agree with you, donations whether big or small can make such a big difference. We should all do this so that our children can grow up in a better world.

  4. "I can't think of anything I want more than the world to suck slightly less."

    Right?? I find lately we buy less gifts but give so much more.

  5. Love that you have options for people to go and give to. This is such a great post. I love the selflessness. <3 -Jillian @Shelivesvintage

  6. I love how you said buy useful. I would much rather have a gift I can use vs one that I couldn't do anything with.



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