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Time to share with the group?

15 November 2013

Jemima Thackray tracks down charities' alternative individual and group gifts


Life-changing: Think and Do's "life school" - Embrace the Middle East's most popular gift for individuals - in operation

Life-changing: Think and Do's "life school" - Embrace the Middle East's most popular gift for individuals - in operation


AT CHRISTMAS, Tearfund offers two ways to support its work overseas. The first is to buy a virtual gift, with the recipient receiving a certificate to explain how his or her gift has been spent. The other is to buy a Fairtrade gift through Tearfund's partner organisation "Created" (the new name for Tearcraft), which provides a sustainable income for artisan groups in ten developing countries.

Top for individuals

CREATED's best-selling item is a bike-chain photo-frame with an antique-copper finish, £11. Its popularity has soared in line with the growth of the "mamil" (middle-aged men in Lycra) population in the UK. The frame is made by the craft organisation Noah's Ark, in Moradabad, India, which employs only local artisans.


Top group gift

TEARFUND's flagship alternative-giving project "Toilet Twinning" has become a popular group gift. For £60, an individual or group can twin their lavatory with a latrine in a developing country, providing a safe and hygienic facility for a community, and reducing the spread of disease. Tearfund also offers twinnings with school latrine blocks for £240. Each twinned lavatory is awarded a certificate with a photo of its counterpart latrine, and its exact GPS co-ordinates.





THE woodland conservation charity Woodland Trust has been working since its formation in 1972 to plant native trees in the UK, establish new woodlands, and protect existing species and their wildlife. Although it sells a selection of woodland-themed items in its online shop, the most popular gifts are the trees themselves.

Top for individuals

FOR £15, a tree can be dedicated in one of 50 woods across the UK. Each tree comes with a personalised certificate, information about the wood's history and wildlife, and a map. "I dedicated a tree to my mum last year," Jennifer O'Brien says. "I was tired of buying her the same things year on year. I surprised her with a visit to the wood: it was a day we'll both treasure for ever."

Top group gift

CHURCH or school groups can club together to dedicate an entire area of woodland. A patch can be chosen in more than 700 woods, starting from £250 for a quarter-acre, and £1000 for an acre, and rising to £3000 for an Acre Grove with a bench. Each area is dedicated only once, and can vary from young woodland to ancient forest. About the size of a small football pitch, an acre will contain about 100 mature trees.




IN ITS mission to serve the most disadvantaged people in the lands of the Bible, Embrace the Middle East (formerly known as BibleLands) uses funds from both its real gifts, and its alternative-gift catalogue, to fund health, education, and community-development programmes in Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, and Egypt. Currently, it is also assisting with the provision of food to internally displaced people in Syria.

Top for individuals

EMBRACE's most popular gift supports the provision of literacy classes for women in Egypt, where women and girls make up 60 per cent of the illiterate population, and educating females is often seen as unnecessary. The gift "Words for Women", £15, equips Embrace's partner-agency Think And Do to provide its "life school", which educates disadvantaged women aged 15 to 25 in reading, writing, and human and political rights.

Top group gift

MEDICAL gifts are the most popular group choice. Many are moved by the fact that while we have a national health service in the UK, the poorest cannot access health care in other parts of the world. Most groups pick the £111 "operational procedures" gift, which supports a hospital based in Bethlehem that funds essential operations, or courses of treatment, for people facing sickness or disability.




PRESENT AID, Christian Aid's ethical-gift selection, has been running since 2005, and has raised more than £16 million to help some of the world's poorest communities. There are more than 50 different gifts on the website to choose from, but its supporters seem to like goats best.

Top for individuals

MORE than 23,000 virtual goats have been gifted - particularly to children and animal-lovers - since Present Aid began. A single goat costs £19, and this donation goes towards Christian Aid's "agriculture and livestock fund", one of six types of work that the charity carries out through its partner networks. Out of this fund, Christian Aid buys goats to give to people in poor communities, particularly those living with HIV, providing an income through selling goats' milk.

Top group gift

CHRISTIAN AID supporters cannot get enough of goats; a herd is also the charity's best-selling group gift, which can be bought for £76.




THE Anglican charity Us. - formerly USPG - works mainly through its partners in Anglican Churches around the world to improve health, educate children, tackle discrimination, and give a voice to women.

Top for individuals

THE charity's "Life-giving Gifts" have a top value of £50, and so are mainly aimed at individuals. Two gifts that have proved enduringly popular involve the provision of education for children, and training for church leaders. This year's newly branded gifts are: "A Place in School", £8; and "Train a Leader", £12. Health-care gifts, however, pip even these two to the post. The "Care for Mums and Babies" package, £16, goes towards training midwives, maternal education, and helping prevent the passing of HIV from mother to child.



SEND A COW provides African families with livestock and training in farming, alongside courses in subjects such as gender equality and conflict resolution. Every family that receives a gift promises to pass on a gift to another family in need, starting a chain of giving.

Top for individuals

RESEARCH suggests that education plays a critical part in breaking the cycle of poverty, which is probably why Send a Cow's "Educate a Child" gift, £25, is its biggest seller. While the gift donations are channelled towards the agricultural programme, most families manage to send their children to school within a few months of receiving a cow, often paying the school fees in milk.

Top group gift

WHAT else could Send a Cow's number-one group gift be, other than a dairy cow? A cow can produce more than 3000 litres of milk a year for a family, which then provides nutrition, ample manure for their land, and a steady source of income from the sale of surplus milk. The £750 price tag for a dairy cow also funds the provision of training in animal husbandry, nutrition, veterinary care, and shelter for the animal.





TRAIDCRAFT works to tackle poverty through trade. It combines a trading company and a development charity, which means that supporters can either buy a physical item that supports its artisan makers, or purchase a virtual "Gifts For Life" to support Traidcraft's development work.

Top for individuals

ONE of the charity's many artisan partners is Gospel House, based in Sri Lanka, which employs women who used to work in poor conditions in clothing factories. Gospel House produces Traidcraft's bestselling line - a brightly coloured hand-carved elephant jigsaw, £8, which is an ideal gift for children.

Top group gift

TRAIDCRAFT's "More Than Just Connecting Communities" gift is hugely popular with school and church groups. Its aim is to support an entire neighbourhood, and one recent project helped Kenyan tea farmers to diversify their incomes by keeping bees. This gift costs £150, and groups also receive materials such as posters to encourage their fund-raising efforts.




SAVE THE CHILDREN works to protect children in 120 countries around the world. Its "Wish List" range enables supporters to choose gifts by theme, from "weddings" to "newborns". Save the Children is transparent about the fact that, when a gift is purchased, the money is always spent on the "theme" of the programme, but not always on the specific item.

Top for individuals

IN THE lead-up to Christmas, by far the most popular gift is "Winter Clothes for a Child," £10. One of the uses of this fund is to help children who live in places such as Tibet and Mongolia, where temperatures can drop below -40˚C during severe winters.

Top for groups

ONE of the most novel and popular alternative group gifts is a Camel Library for £190. These have been introduced in Ethiopia, and are an innovative way of reaching children in remote parts of the country, who often receive no formal education owing to poverty and nomadic lifestyle. Led by a herder and librarian, the camels carry trunks of books around the desert, giving children the chance regularly to borrow reading material.

Hamza, 12, lives in the Somali region of Ethiopia, where only 51 per cent of children are enrolled in school compared with the national average of 82 per cent. "The camel library comes to our village every month," he says, "and stays for two and half days, and we can borrow a book that we like to read. I like very much reading story books."




WORLD VISION is the largest international children's charity specialising in child-sponsorship and -development projects. Their "Must Have Gifts" range from a TB-screening kit for £6 to a roof for a clinic, costing £1600. All World Vision gifts are real items, and are given directly to those in need.

Top for individuals

GOATS have done it again. World Vision's most popular indivdual gift is a kid goat for £19, specifically donated to families in Zimbabwe. Recurring drought in the region has meant that many farmers struggle to grow enough crops and feed their children; so a kid provides not only milk and cheese, but also security and extra income, as it can be bred, sold, or used for meat.

Top for groups

GIFT "bundles" are an attractive way for a group of supporters to buy several items at once. World Vision's "Education Bundle" is its bestselling collective purchase, providing stationery for a school, a children's miniature library, five school uniforms, and two scholarships for children from struggling families, all for £116.




GOOD Gifts is the trading name for the Charities Advisory Trust, which has a large number of UK charities as partners.

This network enables it to offer a vast array of alternative gifts, from a bicycle for a midwife in Africa to a seaside holiday for a British family of four. Good Gifts also believes that your money should buy the actual gift; so supporters can target their charitable giving with accuracy.

Top for individuals

HEALTH care and children's work are the areas that receive most public support. A combination of the two makes up its bestselling gift for individuals: a £27 operation to restore a child's sight - a simple procedure to help those who suffer from cataracts, trachoma, and other eye conditions that cause blindness.

Top for groups

IN THE "Gifts for Book-lovers" offering, the gifts range from a year's supply of books for a child to funding an entire library in India. The latter is Good Gifts' most popular group gift: schools, church groups, and businesses can buy all the books and furniture, and pay for a librarian's salary for two years for £1250.


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