Don't Give Stuff. Give Hope.

Photo Courtesy of Lancaster Gifts that Give Hope

This is the time of year when we all begin to bemoan the commercialization of the holidays, as we claw our way through the crowds at the mall, trying to find that perfect gift for the person who probably already has everything.

This is also the time of year when the number of direct mail and telephone pleas from nonprofits seems to increase drastically, as organizations battle for a piece of our year-end tax-break charitable giving.

But what if we could kill two birds with one stone while avoiding the craziness?

Photo Courtesy of Lancaster Gifts that Give Hope

The Gifts that Give Hope Alternative Gift Fair concept is one idea that’s been going strong for a few years, and will hopefully catch on across the country. There are currently eight such fairs stretching the east coast from Connecticut to Florida, with both an online component, as well as an actual one-day fair. The Lancaster, PA fair is now in its fifth year, organized by Jenn Knepper and a group of friends.

This year more than 1,000 people will visit this fair to purchase alternative gifts for friends and family from about 30 different nonprofits, most of which are local or have a local tie.

For instance, rather than buying more “stuff” for someone, you can buy the gift of honeybees to help a farmer in Africa support his family, and do so in the name of your intended recipient. Other gifts include helping a woman in the Dominican Republic start a beauty salon, or providing music lessons for kids right in your area. Your money goes to a great cause, and your recipient gets a card outlining the gift you’ve given in their name.

And there’s no real target audience: regardless of faith or political bent, there is something for you. Knepper says, “Rather than nitpick, we can collaborate on doing good.”

The fair includes religious organizations, animal welfare groups, and environmental causes, as well as groups working in the areas of domestic violence, homelessness, and human trafficking.

There are also physical items you can purchase, such as fair trade coffee, chocolate, and olive oil, as well as jewelry made by women in Uganda through Bead for Life.

Photo Courtesy of Lancaster Gifts that Give Hope

The main criteria for being included in the fair is that the organization be a 501(c)(3). The organizers also try to prevent too much duplication between organizations.

Knepper says the goal is to tap into the generosity of the community and make it a real community event, featuring food vendors, a photo booth, and activities for kids. They also have a reusable bag featuring their logo, and several area businesses offer discounts if you use the bag.

As for promotion, most of the advertising and marketing is done via social media and through media partnerships. They don’t purchase anything, but do have expenses of around $4,000. They currently take about 10% off of the total to cover the costs, but hope that they can eventually get sponsors to cover those costs.

Last year the fair raised about $26,000 from the one day event, as well as an ongoing online presence.

If you’re interested in having a similar fair in your area, you can contact Gifts that Give Hope which will offer you the advice and tools necessary to launch your event.

How can you turn the core mission of your nonprofit into a gift giving opportunity? What sorts of gifts can you give this holiday season that support your favorite nonprofits? (One idea: a Mightycause Giving Card.)

Photo Courtesy of Lancaster Gifts that Give Hope

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