gift guide: make yourself feel better by making other people feel better

The most essential component to any gift is the giving, so with this in mind, I’ve researched a number of trust-worthy charities in a number of categories. (Feel free to check up on them or find your own at, “your guide to intelligent giving”.) Many so-called charities come with nasty strings attached. They scoop the largest amount of the take for overhead and/or push religion on people, denying help based on faith, race, sexual orientation, gender, or even, as the Salvation Army has recently been caught doing, base nationalism.

These following organizations are, to the best of my knowledge, free of such traps. They encourage, educate, and work towards a more sustainable future.


  • Amensty International: Free prisoners of conscience, abolish the death penalty, stop violence against women and ensure the human rights of all people. Kapow!
  • Oxfam International: A confederation of 14 like-minded organizations working together to bring about lasting change, Oxfam offers direct action with their catalog of Unwrapped Gifts, presents like water jugs, school books, education, and goats, to benefit those living in poverty.
  • Kiva: The world’s first person-to-person micro-lending website, empowering individuals to lend to unique entrepreneurs around the globe. Working with the knowledge that your dollar goes significantly farther elsewhere in the world, browse the entrepreneurs’ profiles and choose someone to lend to. If you make your money back, lend it again! Only drawback: You, the lender, are not paid any interest, but the lendees do pay interest. This goes to the “local partners.”
  • Seva: Seva Canada’s mission is to restore sight and prevent blindness in the developing world, helping communities develop their own capacity to deliver affordable eye care services. Seva provides funding and expertise to partners in 7 countries and regions: Nepal, Tibet, India, Tanzania and eastern Africa, Guatemala, Cambodia and Egypt. Seva is creating sight programs that are locally managed, high volume, low cost, directed to those most in need, accessible to women and girls, and sustainable.
  • International Foundation for Education & Self-Help: Through self-help programs, IFESH specializes in education systems, health, community development and conflict mitigation. The work of IFESH supports the efforts of the eight United Nations Millennium Development Goals, particularly the eradication of poverty and hunger, achieving universal education, combating HIV/AIDS, promoting gender equality and maternal health.
  • Plan International: Sponsor a child! Tony’s got one named Ruth. We put her letters on the fridge. Founded over 70 years ago, Plan is one of the oldest and largest children’s development organisations in the world. We work in 48 developing countries across Africa, Asia and the Americas to promote child rights and lift millions of children out of poverty. Plan is independent, with no religious, political or governmental affiliations.
  • The Nature Conservancy: The leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people, they offer gifts like Adopt-An-Acre programs, which include coral reefs as well as the usual rainforests, tree planting, carbon offsets, and donations to particular wildlife and habitats. They also have a shop where 10% of all purchases go to supporting the Conservancy, but I’d go for the acres of land, myself.
  • World Wildlife Federation: Adopt an animal! Save the world and get something cute! With every symbolic adoption of one of the seventeen species, you receive a small kit that includes a plush version of the animal, a personalized adoption certificate, and a report detailing the work that your symbolic adoption will support. To spice up the usual OH NOES SAVE THEMS species, pandas, tigers, polar bears, they’re also offering zomg-cute! animals like meercats and black footed ferrets, and, for those better hearted humans who do not care if the animal they save is adorable, cod.
  • Electronic Frontier Foundation: An international non-profit advocacy and legal organization dedicated to the right to freedom of speech in the context of the digital age, they are principled, effective civil liberties watchdogs and I love them very much. Among their many, many attributes, they defend individuals and new technologies from baseless or misdirected legal threats, provide guidance to the government and courts, organize political action, and monitor and challenge potential legislation that would infringe on personal liberties and fair use. Become a member, directly donate, buy stock or nifty swag. They’re pretty darned clever with how they spend their money, so every penny counts.
  • Wikipedia: Jimmy Wales is a bit sleazy, but Wikipedia’s bigger than him these days, and if you’re even a little web savvy, you probably use it almost every day. They’re trying to give free access to the sum of all human knowledge. As projects go, that’s pretty spectacular, especially as a non-profit, as it’s only donations which keep Wikipedia alive.
  • Wikileaks: Similar, but not. Wikileaks is an uncensorable version of Wikipedia for untraceable mass document leaking and analysis. It combines the protection and anonymity of cutting-edge cryptographic technologies with the transparency and simplicity of a wiki interface, and provides an incredible service for human rights campaigners, investigative journalists, technologists and the general public.
  • The Salk Institute for Biological Studies: Founded by the developer of the polio vaccine, the Salk Institute is doing the basic lab research necessary to find cures for a whole host of human diseases. The major areas of study are: Molecular Biology and Genetics; Neurosciences; and Plant Biology. Knowledge acquired in Salk laboratories provides new understanding and potential new therapies and treatments for a range of diseases — from cancer, AIDS and Alzheimer’s disease, to cardiovascular disorders, anomalies of the brain and birth defects. Studies in plant biology at the Salk may one day help improve the quality and quantity of the world’s food supply.
  • Doctors Without Borders: An international medical humanitarian organization working to assist people whose survival is threatened by violence, neglect, or catastrophe, DWB provides aid in nearly 60 countries. In 1999, they received the Nobel Peace Prize. The organization is committed to bringing quality medical care to people caught in crisis regardless of race, religion, or political affiliation.
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