This time of year offers the opportunity to express our care for friends and family through shared traditions and the exchange of gifts. Shopping can spin into a frenzy of purchases, but with a bit of thought it’s a great opportunity to put our money where it can make a difference. Last year’s “Shop and Give for a Better World” column was well-received, so I’m making it an annual tradition.
Research shows that giving can make us feel happy, benefit our health, feel more connected to others, and experience a deeper sense of gratitude for all the things we have. However excess stuff can also add stress to our lives, and positive experiences – individual or shared – usually bring more happiness than material things. With this in mind, we at the Center for Social Innovation have compiled some ideas about how we can use our power as consumers to give in ways that bring joy to others, signal our commitment to social good, and help us really feel the joy of giving.
For party hosts, foodies or neighbors: Treats for the table are always welcome. Pura Vida Coffee, B Corporation and Catholic Relief Services have joined forces behind the Create Good Foundation as a source for ethically-sourced coffee, tea, chocolate and wine that help bring clean water and jobs to the developing world. If you need to pick up something on-the-go, Starbucks and Peet’s both sell excellent fair trade, whole bean coffee. And I’m a big fan of TCHO chocolate. The company directly invests in partnerships with cacao farmers to build knowledge at the source and empower farmers. If you are lucky enough to be close to Mission Pie in San Francisco, a freshly baked pie from this social enterprise also makes a wonderful gift.
For animal and nature lovers: WWF provides an array of gift ideas, including symbolic species ‘adoptions,’ branded apparel, and cuddly stuffed animals that represent your support of their wildlife conservation efforts. Or fund a special getaway to Evergreen Lodge in Yosemite, a gracious and comfortable base from which to explore one of California’s greatest parks. Behind the scenes the lodge operates as a double bottom line enterprise with a social mission to educate and employ urban youth. For purchasing outdoor gear, two brands to remember are Timberland and Patagonia, who have embraced high social and environmental standards for decades.
For the global citizen in your life: National Geographic has a full catalog of items organized into handy categories and pledges that all purchases help to support its nonprofit mission. Novica.com works directly with artists and artisans around the world to offer beautiful handmade items like musical instruments, elaborate chess sets, jewelry, and textiles. When shopping on Novica you learn about the person who crafted the item you buy, which humanizes the transaction and adds meaning to your gift.
For your community: Your time is a gift! The HandsOn Network has action centers in more than 240 communities across the nation that can connect you to one of more than 30,000 projects they list a month. Volunteer Match and Taproot Foundation link volunteers with meaningful opportunities to get involved. And the GSB’s Alumni Consulting Team is a way for alumni of Stanford’s business school to apply their management skills to the challenges that face social benefit organizations.
For children, and kids at heart: Green Toys manufactures classic children’s toys from recycled plastic and other environmentally friendly materials, and their products are sold on Amazon and at stores like Nordstrom. For beautiful wooden toys that will stay in the family, Plan Toys pioneered sustainable wood sourcing from rubber wood trees. Hape Toys uses a lot of bamboo and invests in manufacturing communities. And Etsy.com provides a marketplace of small-scale craftspeople with beautiful handmade toys and infinite other treasures. Under Etsy’s “more ways to shop” you can even narrow your search results to shop local. Books also make great gifts for children. 31 Ways to Change the World targets kids in elementary school with a variety of small suggestions for advancing social change. The Green Start book series by Ikids is made with recycled materials and printed with soy ink, with content to inspire children to love and respect the natural world. The Smile that Went Around the World is sweet and timeless.
For those who like to give on: When you give a Kiva gift card, the recipient gets funds to loan to theentrepreneur of their choice in a variety of locations overseas and in the United States. Through Heifer International you can gift animals that produce income – like a cow or honeybees – to families around the world on the path to self-reliance. Seva Foundation’s Gifts of Service catalog provides a variety of ways to make a difference - restoring sight to a blind person or providing education to young women among a bounty of other options. And Acción’s MicroMarket packages your donation in a variety of creative ways – spices, bolts of cloth, or gardening materials – that micro-entrepreneurs use to boost their growing businesses.
For the hobbyist: Give tools or classes that support a budding interest, because it makes people happy to work on things that they love. Gardening gear or a class in sustainable landscaping for the gardener, or a class at the local woodshop for the amateur carpenter in your life are good choices. For the home chef, consider a cooking class. La Cocina in San Francisco, which cultivates low-income food entrepreneurs to formalize and grow their businesses, also offers reasonably priced cooking classes and workshops highlighting delicious ethnic food. And Culture Kitchen sells ethnic “cooking kits” featuring tasty cuisine from around the world.
For those who relish time together: Shop for experiences and services, not stuff. A museum or zoo membership, an afternoon of sailing, or performing arts event tickets involve spending time together and building memories, and don’t require any manufacturing or transportation carbon footprint.
For those who would appreciate it more than you do: In “The Psychology of Re-gifting," Stanford researchers found that re-gifting is generally preferred to the original gift giver than for you to never use a gift or throw it in the trash. Re-gifting when you find a better match for something you don’t really want reduces waste and makes good use of resources.
However you manage your holiday shopping list, enjoy the privilege of giving and follow your impulses to be generous. By giving meaningful holiday gifts you can help to support great causes, and also involve gift recipients in the causes you care about.
A few other tips for responsible purchasing this season: