Give back with socially responsible gifts

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From Green Right Now Reports

As the gifting season unfolds, it will occur to many of us in fortunate places to spread the wealth — and doing so has never been easier. Dozens of groups operating on the Internet are working hard to help homeless veterans, impoverished families, refugees and oppressed women and children.

First, though, a word of caution: Those who sell products in the name of charity should disclose to buyers what portion of their sales funds the projects they’re promoting, or at least list how much money they’ve raised for their cause. If they’re a non-profit in the U.S. that exists wholly to support a cause, they should be and state that they are a 501c3, an assurance to customers that they’re abiding by tax laws.

Beware of those who don’t explain their business model. Some newcomers to charitable selling don’t yet realize the burden of proof is on them, and frankly, have more heart than business saavy, though it’s the ones with less heart you’ll want to avoid. That said, there are many worthy, proven, dedicated groups. Those mentioned here have a long history or were vetted by BlendedProfit, a new organization that aims to grow the “good” economy by aggregating reliable, socially conscious businesses. BlendedProfit and Social Innovators Collective combined to create the Social Impact Holiday Gift Guide, which suggested some of the selections below.

Falling Whistles help people of the Congo ($30.60).

Falling Whistles 

The Congo, ripped apart by war and AIDS, needs help. Falling Whistles, riffing on a local custom, maintains that we can all be “whistle blowers for peace” by supporting change in the heart of Africa. In wartime, whistles were given to children too small to carry guns. Now, the non-profit Falling Whistles wants to turn that cruel practice 180 degrees around by selling whistles to support peaceful endeavors like training and education for displaced people. The fundraising is managed in the U.S., with affiliates in the Congo creating the solutions.

This unisex chrome model is $30.60. Profits go to programs in the Congo, and you wear it to help raise the conversation. The group that founded Falling Whistles operates out of offices in Los Angeles, New York City and the Congo. It posts its financial returns on it’s website.

The FEED Kenya bag features hand-beading by local artisans. Each $300 bag supports meals for two kids for a year. ($300)

FEED Projects

Feed Projects’ feedbag-inspired purses and totes grew out of model Lauren Bush’s awareness of hunger in the developing world. After traveling for the United Nation’s World Food Programme, glimpsed the hunger and pain in nations served by the program, Bush developed the “Feed Bag”, a stylish bag whose profits were funneled into hunger programs.

In 2007, model Ellen Gustafson joined Bush in forming FEED Projects LLC, to sell the trademark burlap bag and other accessories. Profits from the extended product line help feed children and families in Kenya, Haiti, Guatamala and other hard-hit nations.

FEED partners with the UN WFP and with UNICEF. Their burlap and cotton creations, which mimic feed bags, have raised enough money to provide more than 60 million school meals to children around the world. The charity also provides Vitamin A and micronutrient supplements to undernourished children. This year the charity also is offering products to help New York City residents affected by Hurricane Sandy. For more, see FEED’s FAQ.

Diamonds Down to Earth donates $55 for every $250 bracelet sold.

Diamonds Down to Earth

Diamonds Down to Earth sells diamond and cotton cord bracelets to support The Lunchbox Fund, a children’s charity that provides food for South African children (the genesis of the diamonds concept) or three other charities, Smile Train, OneKidOneWorld and Soles4Souls.

You pick the charity by selecting a certain color bracelet with a band of small, conflict-free diamonds. The bracelets are $250 and come with a pledge that $55 goes to charity. The group maintains that diamonds can be “a child’s best friend.” For those without that much cash to spare, there’s a simpler bracelet with a sterling silver charm for $50. Cayley Meyer, the designer, and Doron Ostrin, started the charity, which is based in Sarasota, Fla. (They sell on ROOZT, a giveback online mall of socially conscious stores, but we’re still waiting for verification from them about their financial model.)

Hammock made in Mexico in the Mayan tradition, sold by Novica through Rainforest Site ($81.99).

Rainforest Site

The Rainforest Site has one of the largest inventories of artisan items, purses, bird houses, bracelets, decor pieces, linens and recycled kitchen wares and you-name-it-they’ve-got-it, from around the world. Help those in Haiti, Cambodia, Nepal, Burma, Darfur and other embattled and impoverished places by buying eco-friendly or Fair Trade wares made in these nations. Many items are under $30.

Holiday ornaments from and for Haiti.

Rainforest also hosts the Global Girlfriend site, which creates markets for developing world women artisans. Here you’ll find more jewelry, purses, clothing and food items like the bean and chili soup mixes put together by the Women’s Bean Project in Denver, which helps women learn skills to break the cycle of poverty. Novica, the consortium that curates some of the best crafts and artworks, also partners with Rainforest Site.

While Rainforest can help you fill your relatives Christmas stockings, it also allows you to skip “the stuff” and donate directly to dozens of groups under its Gifts that Give More section.

Here you can donate to help liberate girls from servitude; provide medical care for street kids in India or clean water for refugee children in Africa; protect kids with autism from wandering or help malnourished children in Burma. You contribute to forests for orangutans,  plant trees to sequester carbon, support a shelter animal, buy a meal for a homeless veteran or a bike for a school child. The list of needs are long and stretch around the earth.

Global Girlfriend’s antique sari wristlets are recycled and support artisans in Asia.

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