Presents Guide: Gifts That Actually Give Back

Winter is the season of giving. Though we all frantically shop at the same old corporations full of overpriced junk, in America, holiday shopping is not very different from the rest of our year. We live in a culture of consumerism, where it is normal to buy products for ourselves every day. Realistically, it is safe to say that we all already have enough stuff. The only difference is that instead of buying stuff for ourselves to shove in our closets and endless storage places, the holiday season is a time to buy these items for our loved ones.

Whether you love shopping around the jingling bells, Santa Claus hats and mini menorahs that decorate every store during the month of December, or you can’t stand the idea of the masses of people that flood the shops during last-minute shopping, finding the right gifts for the important people in our lives is an undeniably difficult task. The average holiday shopper turns to well-known franchises and corporations to find the perfect gift, but the problem with this tactic is that in many cases, by supporting these companies, we are unknowingly supporting causes that we may not agree with at all. The president and founder of Urban Outfitters, for example, is known to have donated thousands of dollars to political campaigns that support anti-gay sentiments.

It is easy, however, to avoid using your purchasing power to support the wrong causes. Fair trade is a system in which companies buy and sell products from worldwide artisans who are not usually offered fair prices for their talents. This strategy allows for the empowerment of impoverished people as well as the selling of products that are created in an environmentally conscious manner. This system allows consumers to use their purchasing power to help save the environment by supporting sustainable creations and join in the fight to end poverty and economic inequality with fair trade. Everyone is familiar with TOMS, the shoe company that promises to provide a pair of shoes to a person in need for every pair of shoes purchased. But did you know that there are countless companies and organizations out there that use a similar business model or even more effective ones? With all of our options as consumers, we seem to barely notice all the businesses that exist to support causes like preserving the environment, eliminating poverty and saving endangered species.

This Christmas, instead of just giving gifts for the sake of gift giving, buy gifts that contribute to causes that you support. Many organizations offer symbolic gifts where you donate a certain amount for the cause you choose—from providing food and water to children in need to helping save endangered species—and in return they send a symbolic gift to your loved one in honor of the contribution. Other sites make it easy and affordable to shop for a myriad of fair trade presents, from adorable accessories to sleek home decor.

Symbolic Gifts

Heifer International has proven itself to be an extremely impactful and innovative organization. Working toward ending poverty and hunger, it gives gifts to families to help them earn a living wage. Fund a water buffalo for a family in Nepal, provide a bountiful harvest gift basket or buy even a basic necessities basket for some of the world’s most impoverished people.


The Oxfam Unwrapped model is simple: pick your gift, your loved one gets a free card, your gift helps someone in need and everyone benefits! Dedicated to someone special, your gift can provide a water pump for a village, irrigate a farmer's land for two months, plant 100 trees or even provide emergency soap.

Rescue Gifts helps refugees and others who have been impacted by war and natural disasters. For the philanthropist in the family, you can get a holiday gift of a beautiful printed card or eCard that shows the work of the initiative you chose to support. There’s a gift for every cause like providing a child with a year of school, helping a mother with a safe delivery, providing children with warmth through the winter or even kits like a refugee farmer market kit or a honey beekeeping kit.

When you purchase a gift from Compassion International, you can choose from a variety of complimentary holiday cards to send your honorees to show the impact of the gift in providing clean drinking water, rescuing a child from a dangerous situation or even vocational training for teens. There are numerous options to choose from with gifts starting as low as $4.

World Vision allows you to directly sponsor a child in need in honor of a loved one, including a holiday card with a photo of the child. The organization not only allows you to sponsor children in need, but it also offers gifts of life saving medicines, LifeMilk, school supplies and clothing to impoverished communities around the world.

The World Wildlife Fund offers symbolic adoptions of endangered species from the adorable Fennec Fox to the big and sturdy Sumatran Rhino. The adoption kit comes with a plush version of the adopted animal along with a gift bag, photo, adoption certificate and species card. The proceeds from the symbolic adoption go toward helping save those animals from extinction and provide a heartwarming gift for any animal-loving kid.

Fair Trade Presents

Year round, The Hunger Site offers a myriad of beautiful fair trade items that are sold according to the initiative they support from protecting and restoring the rainforests to helping people with Alzheimer’s or autism. The gifts start at extremely low prices, and the site makes it easy and affordable to shop while supporting an important cause.

Global Good Partners is an organization that partners with “amazing groups that are making change within their communities and producing beautiful products.” It provides these artisans with fair trade prices and channel resources back to their low-income communities. The hand-woven bracelets made by native tribes in Argentina and the handcrafted beaded bangles made by women in Tanzania are just some of its elegant, one-of-a-kind products.


When you buy a Guatemalan tote from Build a Nest, you are supporting the production of more Guatemalan totes. The original products the site sells are made by exclusive artists and designers and the organization uses the revenue to give microcredit loans to women in developing countries, enabling them to start businesses selling their own products—which are then offered on the site. 

Founded by actor and heartthrob Hugh Jackman, Laughing Man Coffee and Tea is a company that serves the needs of any coffee or tea lover with blends from Papua New Guinea to Peru. 100% of the revenue goes toward organizations that support education, community development and business development for new entrepreneurs.

TOMS pioneered the one-for-one philosophy, and now with the TOMS Marketplace, you can shop for anything from the classic pair of shoes to coffee. Every purchase stays true to the company's philosophy, and you can check out its worldwide projects on the site.

The mission of 31 Bits Jewelry is to use fashion and design to empower women to rise above poverty. Made out of 100% recycled products, the cute items offered are handmade by internally displaced women in Northern Uganda. The proceeds go towards counseling and mentoring these women and providing them with fair wages that make it possible to support themselves and their families.

Every item sold by 10,000 Villages goes towards providing the talented artisans with fair pay for their creative works and sustainable practices. Each item from their variety of handcrafted options, from scarves to bowls, is marked with its country of origin and comes with a backstory about the artisans who made it.

Threads 4 Thought offers trendy styles that resemble fashions that could be found in stores like Urban Outfitters or Nordstrom. Its mission is to “promote a sense of responsibility for those who share this world with us.” The environmentally sustainable fair trade fashion line puts its proceeds towards its Threads International Rescue Committee and Natural Resources Defense Council.

Punjammies are adorable sari-inspired pajamas created in an aftercare facility for women who have escaped or been rescued or released from a life of forced prostitution. The aftercare program funded by the clothing line provides quality medical care, emotional safety, education and tools to empower the women in order to stay free.

Since 1989, Women’s Bean Project has produced and sold tasty products in order to employ impoverished women and provide them with stable jobs. With gift baskets full of exotic spices, salsas, cornbread and much more, there is an option for everyone’s favorite flavors—including the option of custom made baskets.

Wooden headphones are durable and adorable. With every pair of LSTN  headphones sold, the Starkey Hearing Foundation uses the money to provide hearing aids to a person in need.

Accompany is a fashionable site that offers handcrafted one-of-a-kind items from accessories to home goods. Its products are all fair trade and help fund projects around the world to hire and empower people with fair wages.

Krochet Kids International makes colorful knit hats to keep your dome warm during the winter. The organization educates, mentors and employs Peruvian workers who create the cozy apparel.

Stand Up To Cancer is the one-stop shop for a variety of gifts like hoodies, teddy bears, candles and more. All the proceeds are used towards funding groundbreaking cancer research.

For each one of the trendy canvas backpacks sold, STATE Bags will donate an identical bag to an American child living in critical circumstances. The organization also partners with Beyonce’s Beygood Global Charity Campaign for a massive back to school initiative.

Which one of these good-for-the-world presents will you be giving this season? Let us know!