Still shopping for the holidays? Honor your loved ones with these charitable gifts
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Still searching for holiday gifts, while wondering whether your loved ones really need more talking gadgets and hit-or-miss fashion statements? What if the gift you gave was knowing they’d kept people in developing countries hydrated for a year? Or that they'd wiped out thousands of dollars in unaffordable medical debt, or helped sick sea turtles stranded in New Jersey recover?
Donations to nonprofits in honor of loved ones are great alternatives for community-minded family members and friends, and for those who say they don't need more stuff. They also make for easy-to-purchase, last-minute gifts.
Experts say tribute gifts appear to be on the rise.
"Over the last couple years, we've seen an increase in the number of dedications on behalf of others from people who complete transactions on our site," says Michael Thatcher, CEO of Charity Navigator, an online resource that rates and provides information about roughly 200,000 nonprofits. "We've also seen more people saying, 'In lieu of gifts, please give to these charities.' "
This may be due to the habits of millennials, the generation born between 1980 and 1995. Laura MacDonald, chair of Giving USA Foundation, says, "We often cite the Millennial Impact Report, which shows how this group believes in the power of activism, and tends to give across a range of industries, influenced primarily by their peers."
While this cohort grew up researching and rating everything from which movies to see to where to find the best fries, nearly anyone can marshal the resources of the web to research and donate.
Donating in honor of a loved one is easy to do, says Joyce P. Hendricks, president and chief development officer of Hackensack Meridian Health Foundation. "Many organizations have an 'In honor of' or notification option or box when a donor makes a gift," she says. "Donors can select that and have a notecard sent to their loved ones so they know the gift was made in their honor."
A lot of gift recipients, Hendricks adds, "feel that it is a better use of a loved one's money than receiving another sweater or scarf."
Before clicking the donate button, it’s a good idea to check in with loved ones to see whether they'd want to receive this type of present. To help get the conversation started, here’s a sampling of nonprofits and potential gift options.
One Tree Planted: For $20, you can plant a tree on behalf of a loved one that will benefit the land, people and wildlife in Guatemala, Bhutan and Montana for many years to come. The recipient gets a personalized tree certificate and an optional ecard from you. They also receive updates on how their trees are affecting the community and environment.
World Wildlife Fund: WWF offers "adoption kits" on behalf of donors who help save wild animals. A gift of $60 to support an African elephant, panda, snow leopard, blue whale or blue-footed booby gets the recipient a 12-inch plush toy, photo, "adoption certificate" and species card. For a minimum donation of at least $12 per month, your loved one can adopt a polar bear.
Sea Turtle Recovery: An increased number of sea turtles are stranded in the Northeast annually. This nonprofit, located inside The Turtleback Zoo in West Orange, heals, feeds, diagnoses and operates on them. A $30 gift to adopt a turtle helps defray STR's expenses, and the recipient receives an adoption certificate, a photo magnet and, if applicable, a picture of the adopted turtle after it is released.
Charity: Water: About 785 million people worldwide lack basic access to clean and safe drinking water. A gift of $240 brings water to a single family; for $20 per month, you can make sure that six people receive sufficient water all year.
World Vision: Sponsoring gifts of goats and chickens to families in developing nations provides them with a steady supply of eggs, milk and other proteins. A healthy dairy goat can give up to 16 cups of milk a day; like goats, chickens are simple to raise and easily multiply. Typical donations include $30 for a duck, $110 for a goat and two chickens, or $215 for one duck, two goats, three rabbits and four chickens.
City Meals on Wheels: For four decades, this nonprofit has been bringing weekend, emergency and holiday meals to elderly, homebound New Yorkers. A one-time gift of $144 provides nine weeks of Saturday and Sunday meals; $88 brings two emergency food packages.
Social justice charities
Medical Debt Resolution Inc.: About two-thirds of all U.S. bankruptcies are tied to medical debt issues. Every dollar given to this organization wipes out a family's medical debt by a factor of 100 — $50 erases $5,000 in unpayable medical debit, $100 pays for $10,000, etc.
A Second U Foundation: After 10 years in federal prison, Hector Guadalupe founded this nonprofit to teach former inmates to be personal trainers. Guadalupe has been hailed as a 2021 CNN Hero, and 93% of participants have maintained employment since attending the program. A $50 donation buys interview clothes for prospective trainers; $100 helps them attain their national certifications.
Social Justice Collaborative: This nonprofit aids undocumented immigrants by providing legal services to minors, survivors of violence and refugees. A $50 donation sponsors toys and coloring books kids can use during legal consultations; $200 helps parents get work authorization to support their families.
Donors Choose: On this website, teachers post the supplies and resources they need for classroom learning, field trips and other projects, and donors underwrite them. Requests might list crayons, chick incubators, language-learning software or a trip to China. Gift-givers can sort by subject, grade level, amount needed and other factors. They also can contribute to several projects at once.
Room to Read: Founded 20 years ago, this nonprofit helps children in low-income communities develop literacy skills and a habit of reading. It also supports girls as they build skills to succeed in secondary school and beyond. A gift of $50 provides one year of reading instruction for a child; $500 underwrites a year of professional training for a future library manager.
Choosing the best charity for your gift
Follow these tips so your gift dollars will have the greatest impact.
- Search Guidestar.org and Charitynavigator.org, two exhaustive philanthropic research databases. Guide Star rates nonprofits Platinum to Bronze and provides details including goals and strategies, percent of total budget spent on programs, and revenue and expenses. Charity Navigator has a zero-to-four-star rating system as well as an “Encompass Rating” that gives organizations a 0-100 score based on their finances and accountability, leadership and adaptability, and other measures of success.
- Charity Navigator’s CEO, Michael Thatcher, says he’s seen increased interest in donating to smaller local charities that are run and led within donors’ communities. “Almost every community has a local community foundation,” says Giving USA’s Laura MacDonald. “Their mission is to advocate for informed philanthropy in their communities, and they list nonprofits they’ve vetted and given grants to.” Northern New Jersey Community Foundation provides this service; so does Community Foundation of South Jersey.
- If you’d rather buy a gift you can hold in your hands, consider checking out products from companies with B Corp Certifications. Companies such as Patagonia, Ben & Jerry’s and Allbirds are legally required to consider the impact of their business decisions on their workers, customers, suppliers and community, and the environment.
Cindy Schweich Handler is the editor of Montclair and Wayne Magazines, and a writer for The Record and Northjersey.com who frequently covers health issues.
Email: Handler@northjersey.com; Twitter: @CindyHandler