I'm giving our stuff away. They are items we don't need and/or want anymore, or items that never found a place in our hearts, so off they go to make someone else happy. At work I'm giving away various things like unworn kids clothing and outgrown specialty toys (today was a stack of LeapFrog LeapPad books with their cartridges.. without the LeapPad). Some of the folks at the Consulate have lightning fast typing skills as the items I put up for grabs through e-mail were nabbed literally within seconds. I hope no fights break out. A stack of movies now donated to the CLO library. Big piles of outgrown clothing for an orphanage. Stacks of toys/games/puzzles for the school's toy drive. There was a brand new men's dress shirt, still in the box, that the housekeeper asked for. For her grown son. It has vibrant pink stripes with an almost solid pink tie. Why did we have this? I really don't want to answer that, suffice to say that our housekeeper is now, shall we say, tickled pink. Her son will apparently just love this shirt and wear it for Christmas. One man's trash...
You've heard me mention GoodGifts.org as a site for the average Joe to become a philanthropist any day of the year. It's UK based, don't let that scare you. There's also kiva.org and other microfinancing establishments if you'd like to go that way. But, there are plenty of other ways to give back too. Some are recipient-guided, some are giver-guided, most are worth your time and money.
More than 15,000 eco- and socially conscious goods are available (some from as low as $2.50) on WorldofGood.com. Shop by gift category, or, if you'd like, "purchase impact," be it eco- , animal-, or people-friendly. Each product is vetted and comes with a short description so you can see exactly where your money is going. Fair-trade lip balms, organic soaps and bath fizzers are all under $15 and make excellent stocking stuffers.
Not just a pretty package
Pangea Organics' gift packages come stocked with bar soaps, shower gels, and lotions and arrive in a stylish (really, skip the wrapping paper!) recycled box inlaid with spruce seeds -- soak them, plant -- and in two weeks a baby Spruce tree will appear, along with, we assume, softer skin. Holiday gift sets start at $30 at PangeaOrganics.com. OK, I highlighted this one just because I think it's so cool. I've seen gift cards that are impregnated with flower seeds and the idea just rocks, but something as drastic as a spruce tree? Fabulous.
Buy a gift, fund a business
At online boutique Nest, BuildaNest.com, the $30 you spend on patchwork Guatemalan tote will go toward ... creating more Guatemalan totes! The site sells original apparel, jewelry, home and paper goods made by more than 75 exclusive artists and designers and gives microcredit loans to women in developing countries, enabling them to start and maintain a business selling their own products -- which are then offered on the site itself.
Another likeminded organization, GlobalGoodsPartners.org, sells handwoven bracelets made by native tribes in Argentina and traditionally patterned silk scarves made by women in Cambodia. Global Goods Partners is dedicated to alleviating poverty and promoting social justice and funds women-led market initiatives in local communities in 18 countries.
Already have the perfect present for Fido? Attach a card from Hooray for the Underdog, a line by photographers Janet Healey and Joe Grisham -- a husband-and-wife team who sell stylish greeting cards featuring pictures of dogs and cats up for adoption in shelters. Ten percent of proceeds ($3 for cards) go to animal welfare groups and shelters.
For animal lovers
The animal lovers in your life may have already overdosed on cute cards (and books and toys and screensavers), but they might not have saved their very own elephant. The International Fund for Animal Welfare's Gifts for Animals program helps protect pachyderms, as well as bear cubs and seals, and also provides funds for urgent pet care and animal rescue. Each gift comes with a full-color pamphlet telling your animal's story, and there's no leash required. Donations start at $25.
Lush Cosmetics Charity Box, $20.45; Lush.com
Lush's hand and body lotion is made with fair-trade cocoa-butter, and proceeds -- 100 percent after taxes -- go to the organization featured on the lid of each pot. WaterCan, TreePeople, Amazon Conservation Team and International Fund for Animal Welfare are only a few.
Celebrate the season of light with Jimmy Belasco all-natural candles ($34). They're made of soybeans, vegetable oil and fragrance -- nothing else -- but the best part of this fragrant treat are the wrapping options. Choose from a wide selection of boxes decorated with cityscapes, calming landscapes, pop art patterns, and holiday themes. Five dollars from the sale of each candle goes to a good cause: You select one from a list of Jimmy's staffers' 10 favorites (with more options on the way).
Buying in bulk?
Good Cards (CharityNavigator.com) are the gift certificates of the philanthropy world. You set the price; recipients pick the charity. Perfect for those bosses, co-workers and clients you're stumped on.
Click, click, done. Two organizations simplify making a difference around the world. Oxfam's gift site, OxfamAmericaUnwrapped.com, offers to more than 57 charitable donations, including a pair of sheep ($90) that allow women to generate their own income by making textiles, a small business fund to help get entrepreneurs started ($100), and a veterinarian's field kit ($35). Products are organized by price, with 28 options under $50, and recipients receive a card explaining what the donation will provide. UniversalGiving.org coordinates donations to more than 200 aid organizations, including East Meets West, Helen Keller International, and more.
For those big-ticket items
You know those auctions your kids always have in elementary school or the ones your office frequently puts together, where you bid for signed memorabilia, electronic items and original prints? Think of BiddingforGood as one giant elementary school auction: Type in the item you're looking for (we got seven hits for the Nintendo Wii) and bid to win. Check the "Cool Picks" section for really original ideas: Tickets to two shows at New York City fashion week, a CSI set pass, and tickets to the 2009 U.S. Open golf championship. Each purchase benefits the auctioneer's charity of choice. Still haven't found what you're looking for? Try eBayGivingWorks.com to find auctions from high-profile groups.