Charitable giving: Gift ideas that help others

Looking for gift ideas for the person who has everything—or too much? Consider a gift for charity in their name and to an organization that supports their values. Here are 30 ideas for everyone from toddlers to adults

By Cynthia Reynolds

Charitable giving: Gift ideas that help others
Whether it’s a birthday or holiday, giving the gift of charity—that is, a donation in someone else’s name—is a profound and generous alternative to tangible presents. This is especially true these days: amid tougher economic times, non-profits are among the first to feel the pinch. And a number of Canada’s estimated 83,000 charities are offering a variety of tribute or donation-in-honour gifts, as they’re often referred to, so you’ll be able to tailor your gift to someone’s specific interests.

When deciding what to buy, you’ll have to consider several issues, such as whether to support international, national or local initiatives; what kind of organization you want to support; and what, if anything, your recipient will receive—for example, some organizations give symbolic gifts, like a stuffed animal, which is nice for a child. Here are some suggestions to get you started.

Charitable gifts: Poverty

Charities that work to end poverty and hunger are providing a variety of gifts to help communities and families better their lives.

Plan Canada has an outstanding program to help those in need in developing countries—you can choose from either its Gifts of Hope catalogue or its Support a Solution program, for which you give a specific amount to help provide such things as books for mothers learning to read, clean water pumps for a designated village or livestock for rural farmers.

Oxfam Canada's program Oxfam Unwrapped offers similar opportunities to give to communities and families.

Kiva is a person-to-person microloan site where you can lend money (starting at $25) to actual entrepreneurs in need of funding throughout the developing world.

• Here in Canada, charities such as The Salvation Army also provide tribute gifts targeted to ease hunger and poverty.

• You may also want to consider a donation to your gift recipient’s church or a local mission near where they live, such as the Yonge Street Mission in Toronto, which works to help families, seniors and street youth who live in poverty.

• Food banks always need donations. The Calgary Food Bank has a program through which you can donate a birthday kit—a cake mix, icing, candles, balloons and small toys—to a child from a low-income family.

Charitable gifts: Environment

There are many ways to give to help the environment, and you don’t have to worry about bringing the mood down with a doom and gloom gift.

• Through Evergreen, you can make a donation to have a tree planted in someone’s name.

• The Light Up the World Foundation provides low-energy lights to isolated and poor villages throughout the developing world.

• Help clean up and restore nearby parks, hiking trails or wetlands with tribute gifts from organizations in your region such as the Ladies of the Lake, a group of concerned women who work to clean up Lake Simcoe in Southern Ontario.

The Nature Conservancy lends itself well to tribute gifts as it is a charity that protects ecosystems by outright buying the land.

Charitable gifts: Children

A tribute geared toward helping children offers many areas of choice.

• Buy $10 bednets in your recipient's name to stop the spread of malaria through the Unicef-sponsored Spread the Net program.

• Help provide healthy breakfasts to kids across Canada through Breakfast For Learning.

• The Children’s Wish Foundation of Canada and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada are just two of the many organizations working to help children in Canada.

• Also look for programs in your city, such as Toronto's Santa in the City, which not only provides kids in Toronto with Christmas presents, but gives donors the options of choosing from an array of real letters to Santa and fulfilling the list or part of it themselves. This is an especially attractive idea for kids and teens who might want to be a more active participant of a tribute gift.

Charitable gifts: Sports

Shopping for someone who loves sports?

Right to Play uses sports programs to improve the lives of children in disadvantaged areas of the world.

Canadian Tire’s JumpStart program helps Canadian children from low-income families with the costs involved in participating in sports.

• You can buy a metre (or more!) of the Trans Canada Trail, an initiative to build a hiking trail that spans the country, coast to coast to coast.

Charitable gifts: Animals

For animal lovers, a tribute gift is always a hit—especially for children—and there are tons of choices.

• The World Wildlife Fund offers wildlife “adoptions” (polar bears, tigers and sea turtles, among them) through its Panda Store, providing recipients with a plush stuffed animal and a certificate of adoption.

• You can "Adopt an Eagle" through PEI’s Island Nature Trust, or "Adopt a Grizzly Bear" through British Columbia’s The Land Conservancy, which gives stuffed teddy bears and a personalized certificates to your gift recipient.

• The Fauna Foundation in Quebec provides a refuge for chimpanzees received from medical research facilities, the entertainment industry and zoos.

Charitable gifts: The arts

Tighter government budgets often result in funding cuts for the arts. So if someone on your list is passionate about culture, a donation in their honour to artistic endeavours is a thoughtful gift.

• Pledge support in their name for a performing arts group, such as The National Ballet of Canada, or perhaps a community symphony or theatre group in your area.

• Support students of the arts by donating to a drama, music or visual arts program in a school or community, such as the ArtStarts program in Vancouver

• Help provide children of low-income families with art experiences with Inner City Angels in Toronto, which partners children with professional artists.

Tangible gifts

If you really want to give a tangible present but would like an added meaning to your gift, you have a number of options.

• Consider buying from a store such as Ten Thousand Villages, a retailer operating throughout North America (and online) that sells only fair trade products and items such as hand-crafted jewellery made by global artisans.

• Many charities, such as World Vision Canada, are now offering gift cards that you can slip inside a greeting card, so recipients can choose how to spend the donation, such as helping to provide solar panels for a school or clinic in need of affordable energy.

• A number of charities also have online stores: the social justice organization Global Exchange sells socially conscious gifts ranging from clothing to coffee, and The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto has an online store where a portion of the proceeds of items like digital cameras to bracelets goes to fund research.

Charitable gifts: Find more ideas

To browse through Canadian charities, three websites are particularly useful.

Charity Village has a rundown of thousands of registered Canadian charities, broken down by type.

CanadaHelps is a donation portal that gives users secured access to search or donate to Canada’s charities.

• The Government of Canada has a website listing charities that is updated daily.

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Web exclusive: November 2008

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