7 Gifts Ideas That Help Charities

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First, the bad news: Even rich people are feeling the pinch in this recession – and the poor are paying for it. Charitable donations are down more than a third among the wealthiest Americans.

In 2009, nearly all – 98.2 percent – of Americans with a net worth above $1 million gave to charity. But the amount of their giving dropped significantly from just two years earlier. After adjusting for inflation, average charitable giving by millionaires plummeted 34.9 percent, from $83,000 to $54,000.

“Charitable giving follows the overall economy,” says Una Osili, Ph.D., director of research for the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, which conducted the 2010 Bank of America Merrill Lynch Study of High Net Worth Philanthropy. “When economic conditions improve, charitable giving improves as well.”

But average Americans may be picking up the slack. A new survey by Christian relief agency World Vision claims about half of Americans (51 percent) said they’d be more likely to give a charitable gift – a gift that benefits a charity – as a holiday present this year.

Gifts that benefit charities

Gifts linked to charities allow you to give a present while helping your (or your recipient’s) favorite worthy cause. That can mean simply making a cash donation in someone else’s name, but nonprofits are getting creative to get your money. Here are just a few examples …

  • The World Wildlife Fund sells Gift Adoption Cards, which symbolically adopt a polar bear, panda, or less cuddly animal like a chimpanzee. Your gift recipient also gets other goodies, like a plush toy version of that animal and digital versions for their computer’s screensaver and instant messenger icon.
  • If you want to get a tad less symbolic and a little more real, you can “buy” a goat for $50 and an alpaca for $75 from international relief agency Oxfam America. You can even see your gift “in action.”
  • The Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund’s Gift4Giving adds its own new twist: You don’t donate for someone else, you set up a charitable account and they get to decide where the money goes.
  • If you don’t want friends and families buying you clothes you won’t wear and gadgets you don’t know how to use, you can tell them to donate in your name – and let them pick from a host of causes. Just like registering for a wedding, JustGive.org offers the Charity Registry.
  • What if you want to give an actual gift but have the profits go to charity instead of a CEO’s bonus? The Charitable Gift Giving Blog scours the Web looking for real items that donate at least a portion of the price to a good cause. Items include a pink breast cancer awareness tie and wines from a winery that donates half its profits to charity.
  • If you’re buying for a cat or dog lover, shop at the Humane Society’s online store, where you can find toys and treats for your four-legged friends and pet-related clothing and jewelry for your two-legged friends.
  • Many charities have online stores that sell everything from calendars to coffee mugs to T-shirts, but some also offer their own unique items. For the handyman on your shopping list, home-builder Habitat for Humanity sells a heavy-duty multipurpose utility bag. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) offers a gift box of vegan chocolates – no dairy. And National Public Radio sells … radios. Everything from shortwave sets to wifi radios to field radios. Some are exclusive, meaning you can’t find them anywhere else.

“This survey shows that, during uncertain economic times, Americans continue to prioritize helping those in need,” says Devin Hermanson, who’s national director of the World Vision Gift Catalog, another cool idea. “Americans are determined to reach out with charitable gifts.”

But remember Rule No. 1 when it comes to nonprofit donations: Always check out a charity before you donate to make sure your money is helping the cause and not just going to line the pockets of shady organizations hiding behind a nonprofit banner. Sites like the Better Business Bureau, Charity Navigator, and GuideStar Charity Check can help.

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