‘Tis the season for cooking, baking, laughing, singing, and, of course, shopping. After all, what is the holiday season for if not the joy of giving?
Whether you’re picking up a present for your mom, kids, or significant other, you probably dedicate much of November and December to finding, purchasing, and giving the perfect gift. In fact, an American Research Group survey revealed that even in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic and recession of 2020, American consumers still planned to spend about $851 on holiday gifts for family members, friends, and co-workers. That’s more than a little loose change.
But many people also want to set aside some funds for charitable giving. Unfortunately, after shopping for decorations, food, holiday entertaining, and everything else that goes along with the season, many people’s coffers are running low, leaving little for charitable causes. That leaves you with a decision: Do you save money on Christmas gifts to give more generously, or do you skip charitable giving this year altogether?
Fortunately, you don’t have to make that choice. You can support good causes by simply choosing to shop at retailers, on websites, and for specific products that donate a portion of their profits to nonprofit and charitable organizations.
Ways to Shop for a Cause This Holiday Season
“Shopping for a cause” means choosing to put your retail dollars to work for nonprofit organizations. Whether a store donates the proceeds or you select a retailer that offers charity-specific products, you can shop for your loved ones while making sure your money makes a difference.
You have a significant number of different and thoroughly creative choices, so pick the options that work best for you.
1. Online Stores & Portals That Give Back
Certain websites automatically find retailers that donate a percentage of proceeds to a charity of your choice. Generally, to use these websites, you must create an account and use the site as a portal to your favorite online retailers. When you make a purchase, most use a unique URL to record the site as the referrer, and part of your purchase price goes to a charity of your choice.
Some online malls or single-store websites also offer a selection of products to choose from, so you can purchase and donate through one website rather than going to a retailer’s site.
You can find many options just by spending a few minutes surfing the Internet. They include:
- iGive.com. This site is like a money-saving browser extension, but for charitable donations. Install the iGive button as an app on your browser and shop as usual — no need to sign in or buy through a special site. The iGive button records your purchases and donates a portion of the price to your favorite charity. The app has over 2,300 participating stores, but the amount donated varies from retailer to retailer.
- AmazonSmile. Activate AmazonSmile by shopping from smile.amazon.com, and 0.5% of your purchase price goes to a charity of your choice. If you’re already a frequent Amazon shopper or Amazon Prime member, it’s an easy way to give back.
- Goodshop. Shop at thousands of retailers you already know and love — including Amazon, Macy’s, Target, and Best Buy. Goodshop donates a portion of your purchases to your favorite charity or school.
- EBay for Charity. Millions of people use eBay. Now you can shop, sell, and give back to your favorite charities at checkout. Sellers pick a charity and a percentage of every sale they want to give to that charity. When a product sells, PayPal Giving Fund collects the donation from the seller’s account.
- Sevenly. This site sells ethically sourced clothing, accessories, and art. When you purchase from one of its cause-themed collections, it gives 7% of your purchase to charities supporting causes like autism awareness, nature and outdoors, and disaster relief.
- Happy Blankie. Buy a premium blanket for a young child in your life, and Happy Blankie donates a second Blankie to a child in need — and you get to choose the child.
- GreaterGood. This family of websites sells products like jewelry, footwear, and clothing. Sales of their goods support all kinds of causes, such as rebuilding animal shelters, caring for children orphaned by Ebola, and protecting endangered animals.
If you’ve never shopped at an online store that gives back, this is the year to begin a new tradition. But don’t let the holidays be the only time you log on. Get into the year-long habit of shopping at one of these sites — it makes a big difference to your favorite charity’s bottom line.
For example, adding the iGive extension to your browser adds nothing to the cost of your purchases. But depending on where you shop, it can direct as much as 8% of the purchase price to charitable organizations. That means if you buy a product for $100, you automatically give $8 to an eligible charity of your choice.
2. Brick-&-Mortar Stores That Give Back
A favorite mall staple of many people, Macy’s donates to a variety of charities every year. In 2019, it donated over $42 million through clothing donations, food drives, and disaster relief, and volunteers donated close to 115,000 hours of their time. This year, when you’re shopping at Macy’s, stop and write a letter to Santa, and the store will donate $1 to Make-A-Wish.
Macy’s isn’t the only retailer offering opportunities to charitable shoppers. There are also designated shopping days on which a portion of your purchase goes to charity. For example, Miracle on Madison Avenue is a day, typically in early December, when a percentage of sales from dozens of retailers along Madison Avenue in New York City goes to fighting childhood cancer.
There are also many local and small retailers offering designated shopping days and charitable shopping opportunities. For example, in 2015, online charitable giving store GreaterGood opened a brick-and-mortar location in the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota. Customers can visit the store and actively support a charity with each transaction. Following suit, The Cause Collection, known for responsibly manufactured fashion and donating $10 from each sale to one of three charities, opened a retail store in Los Angeles, California, in 2019.
You can also support charitable causes by hitting the thrift shop. Three major thrift store chains are run by charitable organizations. Your purchases at Goodwill help people find jobs, and purchases at Salvation Army or St. Vincent de Paul support people in poverty. Many local thrift shops are also affiliated with churches or charitable nonprofits.
Look for a store or giving event in your area by searching online for “charitable shopping” and your zip code.
3. Nonprofit & Charity Gift Shops
Yes, you can donate to charities outright during the holidays. But many of them also have online gift shops where you can find presents for everyone on your list. There are many organizations to choose from, such as:
- UNICEF Market
- Stand Up to Cancer Store
- PETA Shop
- Shop PBS
- ONE Store
- The National Wildlife Federation’s online store
- The Habitat Store
And that doesn’t mean giving everyone on your list charity-logo products. For example, if you’re shopping for a fashionista, pick up a snazzy pair of handmade earrings from UNICEF Market or cruelty-free beauty products from the PETA Shop.
4. Couponing for Good
Couponing is a hot topic. Some swear by it, while others dismiss it entirely. But if you’re a hardcore couponer, you know what a life-changer couponing can be. And by donating the products you get for cheap or free this holiday season, you can make them a literal life-changer for others too.
Using your couponing skills is a good way to give back on a budget. Just load up your cart with things that are cheap or even free after coupons, then donate them to a worthy cause. Examples include:
- Deliver nonperishable goods to your local food bank.
- Package and send toiletries, which are common free-after-coupon items, to troops overseas. You can find organizations that pack, organize, and ship military care packages at Military.com. Even if you prefer to pack your own, these organizations can tell you what kinds of items you should and shouldn’t send, as well as shipping deadlines and packing tips.
- To help children in need, shop buy-one, get-one-free toy sales when shopping for your kids. Then donate the extra toy to a family shelter.
Pro tip: If you’re new to couponing, start with Coupons.com. To lower your bill even further, you can also use apps like Fetch Rewards or Ibotta. Just scan your receipts and you’ll earn cash back into your account.
5. Buy-1, Donate-1 Organizations
Buy-one, donate-one organizations promise to give something back — a product, monetary donation, or even food — each time you make a purchase. There are so many you can practically do all your holiday shopping just by buying from these charitable retailers. Buy-one, donate-one gift ideas include:
- For Your Fashion-Forward Teen: When it first went into business, Toms adopted the motto “One for One,” donating one pair of shoes to a person in need for every pair purchased. However, its new policy is to donate one-third of all its profits through a giving fund that makes grants and gives away shoes. It supports organizations that fight violence, support mental health, and promote education. Other choices include Mitscoots Outfitters for accessories, Warby Parker for eyewear, and Headbands of Hope for headwear.
- For Your Favorite Bookworm: BetterWorldBooks carries both new and used books. For every book you buy, it donates one book to libraries and readers around the world. If it has books it’s unable to give away, BetterWorldBooks never throws them out. Instead, it recycles them to keep them out of landfills.
- For Your Neighbors: Good Spread sells a range of organic peanut butters in such flavors as chocolate pretzel, honey-banana, and salted honey. Each time you buy a jar, the organization donates a packet of ready-to-use, peanut-based food to combat malnutrition in underdeveloped countries.
- For Your Kid’s School: When you shop for school supplies at Yoobi, it donates one item for each item purchased to schools in high-need areas all across the United States.
To find out if the gift on your loved one’s list is available from a buy-one, give-one company, search for the words “buy one give one” followed by the name of the gift. For example, if you’re looking for socks for stocking stuffers, searching “buy one give one socks” brings up the company Bombas. Bombas donates one pair of socks or another garment for every one purchased to homeless shelters and groups serving those in need.
Other brands don’t have strict one-for-one programs, but they still donate money and goods to worthy causes. Skyline donates socks to homeless shelters and nonprofits. Out of Print donates books to communities in need, and State donates backpacks for schoolkids. Additionally, Love Your Melon donates half its profits to fight childhood cancer, while West Elm supports various organizations.
6. Socially Conscious Retailers
More and more retailers are stocking socially conscious products certified as organic, fair trade, made in the USA, or otherwise eco-friendly and worker-friendly. If you’re not into big-box stores and don’t feel great about purchasing mass-market goods, you can find stores selling wonderful goods made by local artisans or even small-business owners in other countries.
Buying from socially conscious retailers often lets you see a direct impact on the artisans, builders, and designers who offer their wares. It’s as simple as purchasing a handmade paper journal from an Etsy seller or visiting a local craft show to see the offerings from local businesses.
You can also shop at stores that specialize in fair-market, sustainable, or socially conscious goods. Lots of retailers offer responsibly sourced goods that make fantastic gifts, including:
- Clothing: Pact, Patagonia, Tentree, Society B
- Accessories: WeWood, Panda, Noonday Collection, Pura Vida, Serrv Store, Ten Thousand Villages
- Home Goods: Boll & Branch, The Little Market
- Bath and Beauty: Savvy Boheme, Surya Brasil
- Food: Project 7
Before you buy from any retailer, always check out the about section and look for phrases like “ethically sourced,” “socially conscious,” and “fair trade.” These phrases mean they purchase their products, materials, or ingredients from manufacturers who adhere to strict standards or from smaller businesses or artisans at a fair price.
Do a little research to find out where the goods you buy are coming from, and you can feel better about buying in a more socially conscious way.
7. Charity-Specific Products
Charity-specific products are those developed by a designer or retailer with a significant portion of the proceeds going to charity. They’re usually special-edition or specially manufactured products, and sometimes, you have to do some digging to find them.
Search online using a retailer’s or product’s name followed by the phrase “100% donated.” Or check the news page for your favorite charity since the charities themselves often announce such partnerships.
A well-known example of charity-specific products is the (RED) collection. Its partner retailers like Apple, Beats, and Starbucks, have exclusive red-colored versions of their products, such as clothing, notebooks, reading lamps, coffee, and technology. Whenever you purchase (RED) goods, it triggers a donation to the Global Fund to fight AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria.
Some companies donate 100% of their proceeds from sales of specific goods. For instance, Lush makes a touchably soft body lotion called Charity Pot. With every purchase of Charity Pot, Lush donates 100% of the price to small grassroots organizations.
Food company Newman’s Own also gives 100% of the profits from all its products — including sauces, candies, cookies, coffee, and the famous salad dressing that started it all — to various educational and charitable organizations.
8. Charitable Credit Cards
One straightforward way to spread holiday cheer this season is to do your shopping with a charitable credit card. No matter where you shop or what you buy, they direct a portion of your spending to an important cause. Every time you swipe these cards, you’re supporting charities at no additional cost.
Charitable credit cards include:
- Charity Charge World Mastercard, which gives 1% cash back as a tax-deductible donation to a nonprofit of your choice
- Susan G. Komen Cash Rewards Visa from Bank of America, a cash-back credit card that donates $3 per purchase, plus 0.08% of the purchase price, to the Susan G. Komen fund to fight breast cancer
- World Wildlife Fund card from Bank of America, a card with identical benefits, except that its donations to go the World Wildlife Fund
Additionally, many points-based rewards credit cards let you spend your points on a charitable donation rather than cashing them in for a gift card. Some travel rewards cards also let you donate your accumulated frequent flier miles. Check the terms and conditions on your credit cards to see if this easy way to give is an option for you.
9. Round Up at the Register for Charity
This year, put the change you get back from your cash purchases in the charity collection box at the register. A few nickels and dimes don’t seem like much, but if everyone donates their spare change, it makes a significant impact. And it barely dents your budget.
If you’re paying with a credit card, that’s OK too. Some stores, such as Goodwill, allow you to round up your purchase to the nearest dollar as a donation. Others give you the option of adding an extra dollar or more to your purchase to support a cause.
Some companies even offer to match the charitable donations they receive from customers. For instance, Stewart’s Shops runs a Holiday Match every year, collecting and matching donations for charities that help children and teens. It collects donations in its stores from Thanksgiving Day through Christmas. In 2018, the program raised over $2 million.
10. Local Businesses
If there isn’t a particular cause you want to support with your shopping dollars, consider using them to boost your local economy. Economic shutdowns caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have been devastating for many local businesses. Buying your Christmas presents from a small business in your community rather than a big, impersonal online retailer could provide the little extra boost the retailer needs to keep itself afloat into 2021.
Some ways to shop local for the holidays include:
- Buying gift cards or gift certificates to local businesses for friends who live in the area
- Using a local print shop for your holiday cards or calendars
- Buying new or secondhand books from a local independent bookstore
- Using locally sourced ingredients from the farmers market to make homemade holiday treats
- Buying handcrafted products from local artisans at a holiday bazaar
In all the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, it’s easy to forget those less fortunate — especially when your holiday budget already feels tight. But while it often feels like our pennies and dollars don’t make an impact, it really adds up when everyone gives a little.
So if you have the means, challenge yourself to donate to a worthy cause whenever possible this holiday season — whether it’s stuffing a few coins into a Salvation Army cup or donating $1 at the register. It helps others and boosts your own Christmas spirit at the same time.