If your gift giving thoughts turn more on the philanthropic, here are some of the best and most unique opportunities out there. We looked for opportunities that were more than just a "give us your money" type of proposition, but rather, services where you GET something, and in the process, you GIVE something too.
Our gift guide is designed to help you navigate the tricky holiday season when giving gifts is expected. But when our holiday over-consumption shines a nasty light on how good we have it, and the selfish rut in which we can sometimes find ourselves, it is important to keep those in situations more unfortunate than our own in mind.
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1. Walk a Mile in Their Shoes
For every pair of shoes you buy from TOMS.com, they give away a pair of shoes to a child in need. What could be better than that?
Also check out the TOMS.com blog to stay abreast of all the exciting news that affects the TOMS community.
2. Invest to Help
Prosper.com is a peer-to-peer service. You know what peer-to-peer is if you've ever downloaded content from the internet. In a nutshell, P2P makes big things small, heavy things light, slow things fast. Prosper.com is a P2P money lending service where you are the lender.
Borrowers post their business plans, needs, credit, etc., for lenders to bid on. If a borrower needs $10,000 for a small business idea but can't get traditional bank financing, or it's simply too expensive, a few, or even hundreds of individuals can "bid" on the project. A lender bids by stating how much money they would loan, and at what interest rate. Once the needed amount has been met, the borrower gets the money he needs, and the hundreds of lenders get a specified rate of return. The risk of loss is spread across the many lenders on the project, which means you could loan as little as $100 to our borrower who needs $10,000, and that's the extent of your risk. When the loan is paid back over time, the lenders earn interest on the amount they loaned.
3. Give a Smile
Operation Smile is a little different from the other charity organizations on this list. This is one of the "give your money" type of charities. What you get in return is the satisfaction of knowing you are helping doctors repair debilitating and disfiguring birth defects in countries where these resources don't exist. So what you really get in return is the experience of helping put a smile on the face of a little boy or girl.
4. Eyewear for an Eyewear
Warby Parker claims to have been founded with a "rebellious spirit," and that idea has been realized through their ability to create high-quality prescription eyeware that is available at a fraction of the price you pay an optical shop. So in essence, you are buying stylish, prescription glasses from a reliable company that is going to turn around and collaborate with popular nonprofits, like VisionSpring, to give the gift of sight to a person who would otherwise be unable to have it.
5. Help Soldiers Call Home
Cell Phones for Soldiers
This charity collects old cell phones and turns them into prepaid call minutes for military personnel stationed overseas. Cell Phones for Soldiers was founded by teenagers Robbie and Brittany Bergquist with $21 of their own money. Since then, their charity has raised about $2 million in donations and has contributed over 1.5 million prepaid calling minutes to overseas military.
6. Literally Feed an Elephant
The Elephant Sanctuary
You can help an elephant eat for a day for just $30.00, or you can purchase an acre for $1400.00 at the Tennessee Elephant Sanctuary – a licensed refuge for elephants. Help these gargantuan animals find peace after being abandoned or abused.
You may have seen the CBS NEWS video that went viral a while back about the dog and the elephant who became best friends (see the video here: elephant's best friend.)
7. Give the Gift of Giving
Tired of giving the usual gift cards for last-minute gifts or stocking stuffers? Here's a new take on the old card – give a charity gift card. Recipients of a TisBest Charity Gift Card get a card preloaded with a dollar amount and a list of the charities that will accept the card. The nice thing is that there are more than 200 certified non-profits that take the card, allowing your gift-getter to donate to the charity of their choice. The cards come in 48 different designs, or you can upload your own image to customize your cards.
8. Unusual Name, Revolutionary Idea
I was a bit worried when a fun-loving friend suggested I check out a site called Heifer.org. But boy, was I surprised. I learned that, through this exceptional organization, I can give the gift of an animal – a heifer, a llama, honeybees, goats, geese, pigs, etc. – that will help an underprivileged South American family reap a sustainable and healthy harvest. Gifts range from $30 to $500, and if you're feeling really generous, you can give a "gift ark" of all the animals they offer for $5,000.
9. A Small Loan Goes a Long Way
Microlending is the same concept as Prosper.com, except on a much smaller scale. A friend told me about MicroPlace a long time ago, but I didn't really pay attention until he told me that he loaned $50 to a young African father who needed a $150 loan to buy a lawn mower so he could make a living mowing lawns for his family. I also heard about a young lady who had no way to get her vegetables to the market and needed a loan to buy baskets. The baskets allowed her to get to market and sell her veggies, meaning she could make a living and repay her small loan.
Sometimes people just need a hand, and MicroPlace makes it possible to lend that hand to those who need it most. Like any investment, you risk loss, but when the upside is this big, and the downside this small, what's not to like?
10. Help Offset Your Carbon Footprint
Carbonfund allows you to buy gift cards that represent measurements, in tons, of carbon emissions. The concept is you calculate an estimate of your friend’s carbon footprint based on where they live and their daily activities. With this estimate, CarbonFund.org provides a dollar value, which represents the cost of offsetting the carbon emissions your friend is responsible for adding into the environment.
While it might be a bit creepy to tell a friend you're helping them offset a year's worth of their own carbon emissions, we think the benefits outweigh the discomfort in this case. You can give carbon gift cards from 2 tons ($20) up to 10 tons ($100).