Are you stumped for what to give great Aunt Helen for Christmas this year? Instead of opting for another hand-knit, holiday-themed sweater, why not give her a heifer? Well, a heifer in her name to be exact. Heifer International is just one of numerous nonprofit organizations worldwide that offers alternative gift-giving ideas for the holidays - gifts as small as $30 for honeybees a to a $5,000 "Gift of an Ark" to provide a full set of 15 pairs of animals to impoverished rural families in remote areas.

According to the National Philanthropic Trust, 89% of all American households make charitable contributions annually; the average annual contribution is just a little more than $1,600. Last year alone Americans gave $308 to the over one million charities registered in the United States.

To capture a greater share of Americans' charitable giving, an increasing number of nonprofits have come up with creative ways for donors to combine their "do-gooding" with their holiday gift-shopping. (Don't miss 6 Tips For Last-Minute Christmas Budgeting for great ideas to help your pocketbook this season.)

Through alternative charitable gift-giving, donors make a financial contribution to purchase a gift through their chosen nonprofit which will directly benefit an individual or community in the charity's service area. The nonprofit then provides donors with cards to send their friends or loved ones to let them know of the gift given in their name.

Check out some of the more creative alternative charitable gift ideas we've seen this year:

A Global Look
World Vision is a humanitarian powerhouse, working in more than 100 countries worldwide to combat the root causes of poverty and provide immediate disaster response. Through their online gift catalog you can choose from a wide range of alternative gift ideas by audience (i.e. Girls & Women, Kids in the U.S.A., Orphans and Widows, etc.) or by type of project (i.e. Emergency Aid, Environment, Hunger, Medical Care). Gifts range from as little as $10 to gifts of $500 and more. Here are just a few gift ideas that will allow the people on your list to help people who need it most:

  • A chicken ($13) - your gift of a chicken will provide an impoverished family with lasting nutrition and a source of income (think eggs).
  • Seeds ($17) - your purchase of seeds for fast-growing hybrid or drought-resistant crops will help a farmer feed his family and sell excess produce in local markets to boost the family's income.
  • Fishing kit ($40) - buy an impoverished teen in the Black Sea region of Georgia (the former Soviet republic) much-needed fishing equipment including a pole, hooks, lines and a fishing basket to secure a source of protein and income.
  • Fruit trees ($90) - buy 15 fruit trees for impoverished families to plant, and you'll ensure they get essential nutrient-providing food, fruit for extra income and seedlings for other families to plant their own trees.
  • Water purification tablets ($100) - in the aftermath of natural disasters, safe, fresh water is often difficult if not impossible to find in developing countries. This gift buys victims much-needed tablets to purify water and halt the spread of deadly water-borne diseases.
  • Clean venting stove ($212) - buy a concrete-lined iron-griddle-topped stove for a family in Guatemala and reduce the risk of life-endangering burns and fatal respiratory ailments from the traditional open-flame fire pits.

Build A Home

Habitat for Humanity is one of the foremost affordable housing advocate organizations in the United States. Since 1976 it has built more than 300,000 homes for over 1.5 million people to help eradicate homelessness and poverty housing. To support this charity you could use their online "Gift from the Heart" program to:

  • Purchase a box of nails ($10)
  • Shingle a roof ($35)
  • Install a window ($75)
  • Install a kitchen sink ($100)
  • Purchase a front door ($150)
  • Buy new siding for a home ($500)
  • Install flooring in a new Habitat home ($2,000)

Give Alternatively

Alternative Gifts Inc. is a sort of alternative charitable gift warehouse. The organization "offers donors the option to designate charitable gifts through carefully selected agencies in the name of their relatives, friends and associates." The organization uses the U.N. Millennium Development Goals to prioritize the wide range of nonprofits and their alternative gift idea options featured in their "Shopping List for the World '09-10" catalog such as:

  • One-half kilo of earthworms ($10) to reduce farm families' need for chemical fertilizers in the Philippines (through Lutheran World Relief).
  • A "Safe Motherhood Kit" ($27) containing plastic sheeting, bar soap and washcloth, sterile gloves, gauze, umbilical tape and a blade which pregnant mothers in the DR Congo, Rwanda or Tanzania can use for safer home births (through IMA World Health).
  • A sewing machine ($90) for a Dalit tailoring school graduate in India (through the nonprofit India Partners). Dalits ("untouchables") are considered the lowest caste in the country and without business training and tools most are destined to perpetuate the intergenerational transmission of poverty into which they were born.
  • A small greenhouse for North Korean tuberculosis patients ($180) (through Christian Friends of Korea). TB is a major health threat in this country and the greenhouses enable TB patients to grow fresh foods, and continue their healing, once they return home.

Help An Orphan

ORPHANetwork provides a way for you or your family to give directly to orphanages working in Nicaragua, the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Through their holiday "Una Vida" campaign you can purchase:

  • A sturdy pair of sandals or a school backpack for an orphaned child ($20)
  • A complete set of new bedding and a blanket for a child living at an orphanage ($40)
  • A school uniform, which is required to be able to enroll in school ($50)

Charity Gift Cards
If you can't settle on a gift for a friend or associate, or would like to make your gift even more personable, consider a charitable gift card. Through organizations like Global Giving you can purchase a gift card allowing your friend or loved one to choose their own nonprofit project to support with the funding you've provided.

The "Global Giving Gift Card" is marketed as "100% biodegradable, 100% tax-deductible, 100% guaranteed." Sounds like the perfect gift. (For more great gift ideas, check out 5 Holiday Gifts That Keep On Giving.)

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