Updated December 21, 2012
Last year, my family gave me a cow for my birthday. I never got to see it, but it was one of the best gifts I’ve ever received. The cow helped its recipient family, which may be anywhere on the globe, in multiple ways. Milk from the cow offered nutrition to the family and neighbors and was sold to support the family and buy needed food and supplies for a larger circle. Calves from the cow were given or sold to others in the town or village, so that they too could be nourished and supported. The cow was bought through Heifer International, which offers gifts of sheep, goats, chickens, pigs and other animals and resources, to help people worldwide achieve hunger relief, self-sufficiency and income by becoming trained in farming skills. My family chose the cow for me because it seemed the most directly nourishing. I was extremely pleased and moved to be part of such a beautiful and empowering gift from an organization that has made a big impact using a simple model.
Read more stories about Heifer. They offer gifts at many levels and opportunities to get involved.
Looking for other groups to support with a gift? There are a great many organizations doing wonderful work. The following are just a few. Think about the recipient and something that would have meaning for him or her. (Please send your suggestions for more, especially those outside the U.S., so we can learn about them.) Also be sure to take these steps to research any group before donating:
Here are some organizations that have crossed my radar and are doing good work.
Children & Nature Network
Full disclosure: I work for these folks. I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t believe heartily in their mission of building an international movement to connect all children, their families and communities to nature. In an age when many children are deprived of school recess, let alone nearby yards, parks and woods, it seems essential for their future physical, psychological and spiritual health, and the health of the planet, that we support those working to reconnect children and people with the green spaces around them. C&NN does this by providing the latest research and resources to parents, teachers, urban and playground planners, health care professionals, nature professionals, and those working at the grassroots level to enact change.
Big Brothers Big Sisters of America
An incredible number of children, particularly those at risk, cite the lack of a caring adult in their lives. For more than 100 years, BBBS has been providing and supporting long-term, caring adult mentors to youth ages 6-18, in communities across the U.S. The carefully administered one-on-one relationships between the “Bigs” and the “Littles” has changed many lives, in terms of confidence and personal and academic achievement.
First Book provides access to new books for children in need, sometimes the first book a child will ever have. Expanded to include online content and other educational resources, First Book has distributed more than 85 million books and materials to programs and schools serving children from low-income families throughout the U.S. and Canada. Judging by its ratings, it’s an exceptionally well-run non-profit with an admirable track record and goal.
National Trust for Historic Preservation
Many historic homes and sites, neighborhood schools and public lands are in danger of being lost forever to development. Their loss can affect more than aesthetics and character — communities and livelihoods, resources and aspects of America’s rural and cultural heritage are destroyed as well. The THP brings awareness and considerable public-policy muscle to saving endangered sites. The group also works to rebuild neighborhoods after natural disasters and to revitalize communities using smart growth and sustainable practices.
American Farmland Trust
About an acre of American farmland is lost every minute. Family farms are in grave danger, from factors ranging from corporate farming to unsustainable development that results in the paving over of farms for roads, housing tracts and malls. American Farmland Trust works with legislators, communities and farmers to protect America’s farm and ranch land; promote environmentally sound farming practices, clean air and water, and a healthy food supply; and ensure an economically sustainable future for farmers and ranchers.
Your or Recipient’s Local Land Trust
Many areas have land trusts, which work to purchase and preserve land for the enjoyment, recreation, habitat preservation or agricultural use of future generations. A donation to a local land trust makes a wonderful and thoughtful gift. The Land Trust Alliance has a list of accredited land trusts.
National Wildlife Federation
NWF works to protect wildlife and wild spaces in the U.S., for everyone’s enjoyment and health. They are actively working at the public policy level to expand clean energy, reduce our dependence on oil, and improve our relationship to the natural world through areas like health and urban planning. They provide resources and education about the many ways families can enjoy nature, through programs like their popular Certified Wildlife Habitat, which allows people to nurture and learn about animals and the ecosystem in their own backyards.
Teens Turning Green
Started by students a few years ago, TTG has grown into a national movement devoted to education and advocacy about environmentally and socially responsible choices for individuals, schools, and communities. The group promotes global sustainability by identifying and working to eliminate toxins that threaten public and environmental health. At the same time, it empowers young women and men to lead and advocate.
Looking for more?
My Slow Family Resource List offers still more wonderful groups who are working to help create a rich, just and sustainable world for children, families and communities, such as The Center for Ecoliteracy, Edible Schoolyard, the National Park Trust and many more.
This list of 25 Top Children’s Charities includes many well-known ones and some you may not know, that I think are doing great work, including KaBOOM!, CASA, Children’s Defense Fund and Locks of Love.
The Good Human lists wonderful Green Charities who are doing great work, including the David Suzuki Foundation, Earth Justice, The National Resources Defense Council, and The Center for a New American Dream.
Mother Nature Network offers a list of Green Charities that features Earth Island Institute, The Sierra Club Foundation, the California State Parks Foundation, which desperately needs our help this year to prevent park closures, and the only group to make both “Green” lists, The Nature Conservancy.
And, now you can even give the gift of giving! I recently learned about Charity Checks, which allows you to order blank checks for recipients or even for your own family. Recipients receive checks in the denominations of your choice, and then they get to choose their own charities. The entire face value of the check goes to that charity. No money goes back to Charity Checks. This unique organization was the brain-child of Lisa Sonne and Victor Dorff. Not only is the structure of their organization highly unusual (a charity whose sole purpose is to funnel funds to other charities), it can have a powerful and tangible impact on families and children. Explains Lisa Sonne in Huffington Post:
You really get to watch the kid think about something that never has occurred to him or her before. There’s a certain empowerment there. It’s one thing to say, ‘What do you care about?’ when it’s abstract. But if you say to a kid, ‘Okay, here’s $25. Do you want to save a puppy’s life? Feed a hungry person? Buy a book for the library?’ Suddenly, the kids find themselves thinking about things they never thought about before.
Gifts that help others work in so many profound ways. They are truly the ultimate gifts.
Friesian Holstein Photo: Keith Weller. Bear Photo: Charity Checks.
Other photos: Susan Sachs Lipman