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Creative Charitable Gifts for the Holidays

Geoff Williams

What do you get for the person who has it all? Or for the person who says they don't need anything, but you'd still like to give them something anyway?

You could embrace that tried-and-true tradition of giving a present that helps somebody else by donating to a charity in a family member's or friend's name. Or you could take a slightly different route and buy a gift in which the proceeds support a charity. There are thousands of charities out there - too many to mention here - but here's a list of ideas to get you started.

[Read: 10 'Experience' Gifts That Keep on Giving.]

Send a card. Cardsthatgive.org directs users to numerous charities that sell holiday cards. So you could complement all of your gifts with holiday cards produced by nonprofits. In other words, buy the charity's card and support the charity. Or, depending on the nonprofit website you wind up at, you could make a donation to the charity in your recipient's name and then send him or her a print or e-card with the donation information.

There are numerous charities on cardsthatgive.org, including wildlife centers, AIDS organizations, homeless shelters, environmental causes and nonprofits you might otherwise have never considered, such as:

-- Puppies Behind Bars (puppiesbehindbars.com) is a program in which prison inmates train dogs for wounded war veterans and explosive detection canines for law enforcement.

-- Mr. Holland's Opus Foundation (mhopus.org) gives musical instruments to needy schools.

-- The SPOON Foundation (spoonfoundation.org) provides nutritional programs to international and local organizations that assist orphaned, foster and adopted children.

-- Seedlings Braille Books for Children (seedlings.org) works to get low-cost, mainstream books to blind children throughout the U.S. and several other countries.

Give a charity gift card. It's always a nice thought when you make a charitable donation in someone else's name. However, if you pick a cause that you find important, but the recipient doesn't have any attachment to, the gesture may feel a little disingenuous. It can almost seem as if the person doing the giving wanted to give to a charity and not to the recipient.

Here's a way to give to both: If you buy a tisbest.org gift card, the gifter pays the money and the recipient gets to choose among 300 charities to send the money to.

Buy a gift in which all or some of the proceeds go to charity. There are all sorts of odd gifts out there with a charitable bent. Just to give you a few ideas, you could...

-- Buy someone a Scottish title of Lady or Lord (Laird is the official Scottish title of Lord). You can give a loved one his or her own title at highlandtitles.com by purchasing a square foot of land in Scotland for $49.99. It's a real title, and real land you can visit. The main purpose, aside from the fun of it, is to help conserve Scottish highlands.

-- Buy someone shoes. Shoes can be a tricky gift. Still, if you know a friend or family member's feet pretty well, you could purchase a pair of shoes from toms.com, or a gift card so they can pick out their own. Every time someone buys a pair of shoes from the company, it sends a pair of shoes to a needy child.

-- Shop at dogoodbuy.us. Charities sell their products on this site, along with for-profit companies that give at least half of their profits to charities. So look around, and if you see a product and a charity that you or your giftee supports, everyone wins.

[Read: How to Give Stock to Charity.]

-- Buy a cookie. Well, buy at least a pound. If you go to bakingmemories4kids.com and buy a pound of homemade chocolate chip cookies ($24.99 plus shipping and handling; 4 pounds, and it ships free), all of the money - except $1 - funds an all-expense paid vacation to a Florida amusement park for a child with a life-threatening illness and his or her family. What about that remaining dollar? It goes to the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital to help find a cure of the child's illness. This relatively new charity is run by a cancer survivor, Frank Squeo, who owns a swimming pool service company and lives in Valley Cottage, N.Y. But in November and December, Squeo and a team of 30 volunteers spend their time baking and fulfilling orders.

Buy a gift for a deserving person you've never met. Circling back to the idea of donating in a friend or family member's name, you could also buy a gift for a stranger - in a friend or family member's name. There are a lot of interesting websites where you can do that. At universalgiving.org, consumers can purchase a gift card and then use it to fund numerous vetted opportunities, as they put it.

For instance, if you have a $50 gift card, you might spend $15 to buy a soccer ball for an impoverished child in another country and $25 for a backpack for a kid in Guatemala, and you'd still have $10 left over to buy a couple of stuffed animals for poor children in Mindanao, an island in the Philippines.

[See: The Tipping Bible: Who to Tip and How Much.]

At Heifer International (heifer.org), you can buy an animal, such as a pig or llama, for an impoverished South American family. Seriously, imagine the look on your mother's face when you tell her you've bought her a goat. Just before you're banished from the house, you can offer up the remaining details. And if you can't afford to spend $250 on a water buffalo, you can - again, in your friend's name - buy a part of the water buffalo for $25.

Because in the end, isn't that what the holidays are all about? Sure, giving to the needy is nice, but the holidays are also about creating memories. Who wouldn't want to fake out a friend for a few minutes while he wonders where he's going to keep his new water buffalo?

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