Socially conscious gift ideas

Christmas is coming, and once again I’m not sure what to give. My family is notoriously difficult to shop for-- they tend to buy what they want, and aren’t in to the obvious categories of gifts. They don’t do a lot of jewelry, home decor, bath stuff, etc. They are mostly at the point that they don’t want or need more clutter. And money is a little tight for us, so I’m not thrilled about spending a ton on unwanted gifts.

It’d be a great time to make a donation instead of giving gifts, but I am convinced that is tacky. But I do like the idea of a gift that is somehow socially conscious. I have a relative who gives Kiva gift cards, and that’s perfect- the recipient can keep the money if they want, but if they want to use it, they can have some fun picking out who to donate to. I wish I had thought of it, because I’d totally do it, but I didn’t think of it so I can’t.

Any ideas? I’ve looked at a lot of fair-trade stuff, but it’s mostly knick-knacks that won’t really be appreciated. I looked at the PBS store, but none of those items were right, either. I thought a Global Giving giftcard might be fun, but that’s still basically a donation in their name, and if I were to do that I’d want to do a Peace Corps partnership donation or something. And I won’t do that, because it’s tacky.

I’m open to something by local (I’m in DC) crafts people as well. I’m all for supporting local economies. But I want to buy it online, and not have to think too hard about it. I thought about Kickstarter gift certificates, but that might be a bit too high-tech for the older generation.

Well, there’s fair trade (or better, like direct trade) coffees, and beauty products. Not just those brands, those are just examples.

Heifer International not quite right?

Oh, there’s one of my favorite charities to knit for, the Mother Bear Project. Volunteers knit bears to ship to children around the world who’ve been (typically) orphaned by AIDS. Each bear has a little hearts stitched on the chest, and a tag around the wrist saying it’s from “Mother Bear (knitter’s first name).” You can do various monetary things, including buying Mother Bear-related gifts.

If you know knitters, the Afghans for Afghans group has Afghani-inspired knitting patterns for sale. (They’re my other favorite charity to knit for.)

This sounds like a guilt-trip-in-a-card.

Seriously. You COULD keep the money but then you’d probably feel like an asshole.

Anyway, food is usually a good gift for people who are hard to shop for. Something fair trade or benefiting a charity or something if you want to be socially conscious…I don’t know.

Oh, but you just had a baby! That’s always good for baby pics in a nice frame. Is that kind of self-centered to do? I don’t know, maybe, but I think you can get away with it for an infant.

Seriously. Its more moral conundrum then gift. Like a low-key version of getting them one of those gadgets with a button you can press that gives you a million dollars, but also causes a random person to die.

Naw, it works as a present, at least for do-gooder types. Kiva makes the process of picking out loans pretty fun, and sometimes you get neat updates from the businesses you’ve helped. Do you want to help a Mongolian start a mechanics shop, or a Cameroonian art collective, or a lady in the Phillipines who sells my favorite dessert? It’s like a little trip around the world from my computer screen. And as you get paid back, you can reinvest, so it’s fun year round- I check things every week. My new goal is to try to make one loan in each Kiva country.

Over the years these gifts have added up to a decent little chunk of cash, and if I ever need to I’ll pull it out with no worries, as it’s already spent years doing good.

A present you’re expected to give away doesn’t sound like much of a present.

Kiva gives loans, so you aren’t giving it away. You get an account full of cash to loan with, which can be withdrawn from if you like. It’s probably be weird to cash out your gift card immediately without making any loans, but if you want to park it a while and pull it out eventually, that’s cool.

:dubious: I think you knew what I meant - it’s still a gift to one person but intended for someone else.

One of my favorite gifts was a cheap skull-and-crossbones pendant. It was a gift meant just for me. I’m not sure I would have felt the same way if I’d been expected to let other girls wear it.

Gifts are supposed to be about making the recipient happy - this looks like you’re trying to make a statement.

Eh, fair trade consumables are your best bet. Donations are a minefield, and, unless the recipient has expressed a wish that you give to charity in their name, tacky and presumptuous.

Man, they sound like a blast…

Tom’s Shoes has a gift guide. If you buy them stuff from Tom’s, then little poor children around the world get shoes, or something.

Haha. Toms always baffled me. If there is one thing people in the developing word have, it’s access to shoes. Cheap Chinese flip-flops make the world go round.

Good ideas, though. Keep them coming!

Dear Santa…

Tacky? Really? Why?

I can see that it’s maybe not the most exciting gift to give, but if you take the time to figure out a charity that the recipient likes, why would it be tacky?

I feel like the implicit message is “I am so amazingly charitable, I can even be charitable for you!” To me, it can kind of be a bit of a subtle insult, implying they are not charitable enough to donate themselves.

But if I can find something charitable/socially conscious that also provides something fun for the recipient, such as the fun of picking out a Kiva loan or receiving something from a kickstarter, I think that’s cool.

How about e-mailing everyone and saying something like, “Now that we’re all adults, there’s not much that any of us truly need but each other. Instead of giving gifts this year, why don’t we all pool our money and go out for a family dinner at a nice place? We can make memories our gift to each other.”


I don’t know where your giftees give, but how about a gift card for something like Support local agriculture, give yummy healthy food!

If you want to donate to charity, then do it. But don’t donate to charity, and then tell me you did if for me. That’s almost the same as cleaning your house, and saying you did it in my honor.

In my extended family (beyond my spouse and kids) we don’t give gifts to anyone over 18. We do however play a “game”, whereby anyone wanting to participate (usually everyone does) brings a gift valued at $50, wrapped to go under the tree. We then draw numbers and then take turns picking a gift under the tree. If instead, you don’t want to take a gift from under the tree, you can take a gift from someone that has already opened one from under the tree, with a limit a 3 steals per turn. The game is fun and most everyone gets something nice.

I like shopping at greatergood since in addition to my purchase, donations are made to various causes. The recipients don’t even need to know that you were responsible for the donation. I tend to get consumables like calendars, coffee or candy, or Christmas ornaments from then.

ETA: You can also “buy” services to folks in need there but only you know whether your relatives will like that or be offended.