Etiquette experts may cringe at the idea of donating to a good cause in honor of someone rather than getting that someone a tangible gift. And some people on your holiday shopping list might not like that idea, either.
But some organizations that provide “gift catalogs” of donations are thriving, so enough people must like the idea — and it certainly avoids any clutter issues. Two popular charities with these catalogs are Heifer International and Seva. With Heifer you might choose to send someone in need a water buffalo, a llama, honeybees, etc. — even a heifer. There are also gifts to send a girl to school, provide irrigation pumps, and otherwise help those in need. Seva’s gift catalog focuses on “gifts of sight” where you might decide to fund someone’s cataract surgery, give glasses to a person in need, help sponsor an eye clinic, etc. Both of these organizations will provide a greeting card for your gift recipient.
Another interesting option is Outreach International, a highly rated charity with a diverse gift catalog. As the organization states, “From animals to wells to school supplies to startup loans for businesses, our catalog offers all the things for all the people in all the places where Outreach works every day to help break the cycle of chronic poverty.” That image at the top illustrates one of the many gifts available.
There’s a slightly different gift option available at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, where you can foster an orphan elephant as a holiday gift. In this case you aren’t choosing the type of gift — you’re choosing your elephant. There are numerous other programs that work in a similar fashion.
Yet another possible approach is to get your gifts through Changing the Present, which has collected gifts from numerous good causes. You might adopt a polar bear through Defenders of Wildlife, adopt an acre through The Nature Conservancy, provide a patient with a chemo comfort kit, and much more. This group charges for its greeting cards, but you get to select a photo and provide a personal message. Changing the Present also allows you to set up a “gift registry” if you want to encourage people to give you this kind of gift rather than more stuff.
Providing a specific gift (a heifer, some eyeglasses, etc.) can make the donation feel more gift-like than if you just made a normal “in honor of” donation to a charity. Also, many organizations with these gift catalogs allow you to buy a gift card where your gift recipient chooses the specific gifts, which some recipients will appreciate.
However, if you really care that the money is going for the specific item you purchased, you’ll want to check the organization’s policy. For example, Heifer International explains:
As a donor, you are given the opportunity to designate gifts to specific country programs or for specific animals. Gifts are deposited into various animal accounts, such as “llama/alpaca,” “tree seedlings” or “bees.” We have different accounts for every type of Heifer International animal. When any animal fund becomes depleted and there is still a need, monies from any other animal fund can be used where needed most. Meeting the needs of hungry families always comes first, but we do our best to accommodate your wishes, too.
Every gift to Heifer International represents a gift to our total mission. … Again, gifts designated for a particular project or animal are used as requested until that need is fully met. Any remaining money is put to use where it is needed most.
This all makes perfect sense in helping a charitable organization fulfill its purpose, so the chance that your money may not be used exactly as you expected may not matter to you. But one group that promises that the money really will go to the specific purpose you designated is Good Gifts, based in the U.K. It has a wide range of possible gifts, so you could help vaccinate 12 dogs against rabies, buy solar lamps for villagers in Africa, provide a family with five chickens and a cockerel, etc.
This is by no means a comprehensive list, so if you’d like to share another charity with a gift catalog, please add a comment!